The Snow Book
Billy observed many things from the passenger seat of his family’s minivan. The trees, poles, and motorcars flashed like objects in a strobe light; the scenery appeared as images played fast-forward on a video cassette. Suddenly, the boy grunted a garbled word-phrase. His mother’s response was immediate.
“It’s alright, Billy,” she said.
Brenda turned to see if her ten-year-old son was flapping his hands. She felt relieved to witness only mild vestibular stimming. The brief outburst would not become an episode.
“Where are we going, Billy?” Brenda asked.
Billy twisted his wrist in the manner of a limb paralyzed by cerebral palsy. In his other hand, he held a thumb-sized red lobster toy.
“Cocoa Puff!” he stated.
“Yes…Cocoa Puff,” Brenda replied. “But first…where are we going?”
“Where are we going?” Billy echoed.
“Answer the question…you know the answer…where are we going?”
“Aunt Lisa and Uncle John,” said Billy. “Cocoa Puff!”
His mother reached for the snack and she offered a few morsels that were gluten-free replicas of the original cereal.
“Very good, Billy,” she said.
Billy accepted the treat and returned his gaze to the speeding images outside the passenger window. “Please…thank you…” he stated.
“Just say…‘thank you,’ his mother instructed.
Brenda was pleased how well her son had managed the long car ride. Her husband, Michael, driving the minivan, felt relieved as well. The family had been travelling for two hours.
“Do you have the tapes?” Michael asked his wife. He was referring to a cardboard box containing Disney movies Billy watched for hours on end.
“Of course, I do…” answered Brenda, “that is…we have the ones he didn’t destroy after watching them.” Billy had discovered the coiled black ribbon of tape within the plastic housing of the cassettes. He delighted to unravel the strand. Billy didn’t know he was destroying the movies.
Brenda returned her attention to an article in a health magazine. The Autism Science Foundation had reported how children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tended to be fascinated by screen-based technology. A university researcher had concluded that adolescents with autism spend the majority of their time using non-social media.
“No kidding!” Brenda said, slapping the periodical into her lap. “It says here autistic kids like movies!” She let go a sigh. “The researcher could spend one day with Billy and figure that one out!”
Michael knew well the frustration. A Nobel Prize awaited anyone who could correctly diagnose or offer a reliable treatment for autism. Since Billy had been diagnosed at age two, Brenda and Michael had spent much of their time investigating the dreaded disorder. They attended fundraising events and had spoken with doctors, therapists, teachers, parents, and siblings of autistic children. Over time, they had modified Billy’s diet by limiting carbohydrates, sugar, yeast, dairy, wheat, and corn gluten. They tried Chelation Therapy to remove toxic metals, particularly mercury, iron, lead and arsenic from their son’s body. A respected pediatrician recommended Secretin Therapy; it turned out badly. Other experimental treatments such as epileptic medications, steroids, Risperdal, Ritalin and psychotropic drugs did not work well either. Regrettably, Brenda and Michael had become weary of therapies that only masked symptoms. In practice, most of the strategies worsened Billy’s tics and episodes, and it was always a gamble to begin another regimen. Nonetheless, Brenda and Michael were not without hope.
For several miles more, the family travelled as in a warm cocoon. And then the silence was interrupted.
“Cocoa Puff! …Where are we going? …Aunt Lisa and Uncle John… Please-thank you….” Billy said.
“Snow Book!” Billy blurted.
Billy had ripped up the Snow Book months ago; he tore the pages into little white snowflakes and tossed them into the air. In its place, Brenda handed her son a colorful picture book filled with Disney characters. “Now let’s read this one…” she said.
The family arrived at their destination. The visit to their relatives was coordinated with a craft festival staged each year in Westhampton Beach. After a greeting of hugs and kisses, lunch was served. Uncle John and Michael exchanged anecdotes. Brenda and Lisa spoke of the fair. Billy circled comfortably about the domicile. He remembered the house in all its details. He roamed in and out of the kitchen like a shadow.
And then, “blue boat!” Billy exclaimed. “Blue boat!” he repeated, tugging at his mother’s arm, insisting she accompany him to an adjacent room.
Without fuss, Brenda and Billy left the kitchen while dishes were restored to the cabinets. When mother and son returned, Brenda asked a question.
“Does anyone know about a blue boat? Billy led me upstairs and he was looking for something there.”
No one understood except Uncle John. “Yes…a blue boat!” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
Billy’s uncle disappeared to the basement and he returned promptly. In his hand, he held a plastic blue boat no larger than a sugar packet. “I took this little boat from the shelf two years ago,” he said. He handed the plastic toy as a gift to Billy: his nephew’s face lit up. Billy now grasped within his left hand the little red lobster-toy, and in his right hand, he held the miniature blue boat.
The family made their way into town. At the craft fair, rows of booths were set beneath white marquees. Brenda roamed freely. Uncle John and Michael trailed along, stopping occasionally to examine something of interest. Billy held close, for he did not wish to venture into the throng. It was a most pleasant sort of stroll for everyone.
Surprisingly, there were few items at the festival remarkable enough for Brenda. Aunt Lisa sensed her mood, and she suggested another location that might be more satisfying. She remembered an antique barn in the historic district of Center Moriches.
Once again they were on the move. Once inside the crooked structure, an elderly woman greeted the family. “My name is Sophie…let me know if you have questions.”
Everyone smiled at the friendly greeting.
At first, it was library-quiet inside the barn; the only sound the scuffing of shoes upon the wide-planked floorboards. The entourage roamed about the space like spilled marbles. Billy paced around self-absorbed; a scene from a Disney movie playing inside his head. Billy was hallucinating. He recited aloud some of the dialogue. His mother moved quickly to his side.
Sophie, the friendly administrator, had witnessed all and she recognized a child with a special disability. A deeply religious woman, she whispered a soft prayer.
Brenda and her son stood together at a bookshelf filled with children’s storybooks. Suddenly, Billy released the red lobster-toy and the little blue boat upon the floorboards. “Snow Book!” he shouted.
In plain sight, Billy withdrew the prized storybook. Brenda confirmed the event with elation; it was the Snow Book indeed! She called out to her husband.
“Michael! Can you believe it?”
Everyone hurried to the bookshelf. Brenda expressed the significance of the discovery. “Billy has asked for this book for months! We assumed it was irreplaceable. I can’t believe we found another one!”
The Snow Book, properly entitled The Winter Queen, was back in Billy’s possession. Billy darted about euphoric; with both hands he clutched the prize.
Sophie had witnessed the delivery of the Snow Book to the autistic child and the event touched her profoundly. She observed with awe the boy’s illumined face. She believed at once that God had sent Billy to this rickety barn for that old storybook. The elderly woman lifted her fragile hands to her cheeks and she whispered another prayer. She believed it was sublime, indeed; the face of this autistic child.
Brenda walked demurely to the counter. “How much is this book?” she asked.
Sophie sat stunned. The devout woman had forgotten she was the supervisor of a retail establishment. “Oh my dear!” she said. “The book is free! It is a gift. It is a gift!”
Try as she might, the woman would not accept payment, so Brenda deposited money into a donation box near the doorway.
Quietly, Brenda retrieved the red lobster-toy and the blue boat from the floor before exiting the barn; she placed both into her pocketbook. Billy hugged the Snow Book when he re-entered the minivan. Indeed, it had been a perfect afternoon to hunt for treasures!
That evening, everyone enjoyed a fabulous dinner. Time passed and festivities ended. It was a wonderful day.
A few weeks later, Lisa called Brenda to chat about pleasant things. She asked about Billy and the Snow Book.
“Oh!” Brenda began, “…Billy tore the pages into snowflakes…he’s back with the red lobster and the blue boat…thank goodness I found them! He loves the Disney movies…he keeps yanking the black ribbon from the cassettes…he doesn’t know he is damaging the movies. Sometimes he watches at fast-forward speed… and he wanders from room to room re-enacting the scenes in his head.”
Brenda ceased speaking, believing she had spoken sufficiently about Billy’s autism.
“It was a great day,” she said. “Won’t you come and visit us soon?”