From a collection of short stories titled
The Jewel, publ. by INHOUSEPRESS
Brigitte never understood the reason for going to school. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, spent hours trying to persuade her, quoting the very best arguments from the many educational digests which filled the shelves of their extensive library. Brigitte remained unconvinced.
Ordinarily, there would have been no problem. A child would be given her lunch, put on the school bus, and return home at a designated hour. The mother would have had a few hours of rest from the endless stream of questions that poured from the hungry mind of a child. On weekends, the extracurricular activities organized by the wise school administrators would also allow both parents a few extra hours for well earned rest.
None of these applied to Brigitte. A precocious child; at the age of three, she not only read all books destined for children twice her age, but herself wrote fables so imaginative, so immediately appealing, that the publishers were hard put to believe the authorship of the neatly typed manuscripts. At four, Brigitte discussed the relative merits of quantum theory with her uncle, a professor of physics at Carlton University. She more or less convinced him that unless one recognized energy particles as harmonic quotients, one couldn’t truly perceive the basic structure of particle physics. What followed was her intense passion for theoretical math, theory of numbers, patterns and anabolic progressions – all in quick succession.
Then, on the last day of August, Brigitte turned five. Her birthday party was attended by four children and six professors – four from the science department of her uncle's university and two visiting scholars from the MIT.
Throughout the afternoon, Brigitte oscillated between her childish games and short but deep exchanges with the stunned professors. She managed the dichotomy with the inherent ease of a conductor blending the sonorous staccato of the timpani with the lugubrious legato of the symphonic strings.
Her parents watched her virtuoso performance with an ill defined yet disturbing, incongruent mixture of exultant pride and deep concern. They invited the strange mélange for Brigitte's birthday for one reason only; Brigitte had to be registered for school and they wanted the advice of Brigitte's uncle's friends and colleagues on how to assure the best future for their only daughter.
Brigitte seemed quite unconcerned by the problem she was creating. Of average height, pretty in her girlish charm but with no pretensions to beauty. Equally at home climbing trees as solving differential equations, her appearance in no way suggested the potential genius hidden behind her clear, blue eyes. Her hair cut fairly short – she found it more convenient for tree climbing – always remained dishevelled, no matter how often her mother arranged it for her. She was neither taciturn nor too noisy, neither serious nor exuberantly joyful, neither indifferent nor sentimentally attached to anyone or anything within her immediate surroundings. Even her parents, she regarded with loving detachment, offering a kiss and a smile with open spontaneity, withdrawing herself when mom or dad seemed in need of solitude or rest. She cried as all children do when she bruised her knee, laughed at the sight of an ice cream cone, smiled in expectation of a birthday present wrapped in multicoloured paper.
In so many ways Brigitte seemed a normal, well... an almost normal child. Almost.
The so-called gifted children usually excel in a single discipline. Be it in scholarship of science or in more artistic endeavour, they never seem to manifest a broad spectrum of precocious talents. In fact, they often exhibit shortcomings in some disciplines as if nature was trying to compensate for the innate imbalance.
Brigitte did not follow this rare though established course of evolution. She regarded each new challenge with wide open eyes, seemingly observing not the object of her interest, but rather the forces behind it. Her mother and father shared an uncanny conviction that Brigitte's apparent detachment from the object of her interest included also her very-own-self. It was not Brigitte playing with the other children, they thought, it was Brigitte playing at playing with children of her age. It was not the child studying advanced mathematics, nor her mind growing in stature and complexity, but rather Brigitte using her mind with a calm detachment, viewing it from an external vantage point, as she would a spoon or a fork at the dinner table. Brigitte was not her body, her mind, her emotions. Rather she seemed a free spirit wearing her physiological or mental attributes with the joy and detachment she did a new dress she received for her birthday. The body she inhabited was a means of self expression, a means of gathering knowledge, a system of communication between her true inner self and the world in which she found herself. A means to an end, though to which end neither her parents nor the illustrious professors had the slightest inkling.
She was quite unconcerned with what future her parents would assign for her. After three visits to schools for, so-called, gifted children, Brigitte was accepted at the Guilford Institute – only some sixty miles from their home – in Carlton. On the third Sunday in September, her parents drove her to her new school. Brigitte refused to take with her any of her favourite toys. Only her stuffed panda, a ball of furry softness, she took along as though to show weakness where none really existed. A few hours later her parents, eyes misty, kissed her and held her in an anguished embrace of their first parting. Brigitte only smiled and cheered them in reassuring consolation.
All children she now mixed with exhibited some talent well beyond their conventional capacity. Brigitte seemed to be neither ahead nor lagging behind her precocious colleagues. She fitted in as she did, at home, at her birthday party or in any circumstances she’d ever encountered.
Brigitte now lived, ate, played, studied and slept in surroundings specially created to suit her peculiar talents. Once every week, always on Sunday, her parents drove down to see her. Those days were as joyful as any she had lived at home. Slowly Dr. and Mrs. Hardcastle relaxed in the conviction that the best was being done for their only child.
It was on Tuesday, a little over a month after Brigitte had been installed at the Institute, that Dr. Hardcastle left home to attend a convention in Montreal. Towards evening, Mrs. Hardcastle for the first time felt the full weight of an empty house. She sat back in her favourite armchair, allowing the room to grow dim in fast approaching darkness. She tried to remember the joyful laughter of her darling daughter. She thought back to the hours, many, many hours that she and Brigitte had spoken not of science but of love and kindness, of beauty and order, of harmony in nature. Brigitte always listened without interrupting as though even then realizing that this sort of knowledge could not be truly found in books or computers. Perhaps not even in the words that her mother was saying. But she listened intently, sensing the meaning before it had even been spoken, as though hearing the thought-waves coming from her mother's being. At times like those, Brigitte's eyes filled with an opalescent hunger, absorbing the knowledge stored in her mother's heart.
That evening, for the first time since Brigitte's departure, Mrs. Hardcastle felt her daughter's quiet presence. She felt her warm nearness, her intense attention. She thought of, or imagined, her little girl's yearning for what she had to give her. Mrs. Hardcastle smiled with profound contentment as she opened her heart to quench her daughter's hunger. She poured her love freely, without reservations. She felt drawn into a vortex of coalescing spheres filled with secret knowledge beyond the mind's outer reaches. Her body relaxed, her consciousness growing beyond space and time – in a void suspended....
The grandfather clock chimed the eleventh hour.
With a great effort Mrs. Harcastle drew back her dormant senses. The nearness of her daughter still lingered in the air around her. Somehow she knew that, during the last few moments, she had channelled knowledge for which Brigitte was searching. A gentle, loving smile wavered on her tired features.
As she raised her hand to wipe a joyful tear, she felt a strange softness resting on her thighs. Too drowsy to be nervous, she switched on the lamp on the reading table. Slowly her eyes focused on her lap. There, looking up at her, lay a smiling panda. A stuffed, smiling panda, a ball of furry softness.
Site: Stan I.S. Law
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|Reviewed by Kevin Bryant
|The fact that I was enthralled by 'Stuffed Panda'both surprised and amused me. It provides clear eveidence that a well written piece will hold the interest of an open minded reader regardless of topic or the readers assumed preferences. Thaak you Stan, well done.|