The idea had come to Liberty as she was staring at the sea in the little Oregon town, dreaming of Al. They’d conceived Callen when they were still volunteers, living in the rainforest. Who knew what kinds of strange bacteria cold have been lurking in the food or water? What if she’d contracted some strange, tropical disease that had caused her son to be so joyless?
After coming to a decision, she explained it to Callen. “We’re going to spend some time in the rainforest. I’ll homeschool you over the next few months. But I feel like we need to go there to figure out what’s happening with you.”
“Okay, sure,” Callen said in his usual lackluster tone. She may as well have said they were moving to the moon, for all his indifference.
She rented a small place for them to stay near the small village of Selvadorada. The village had grown since she’d been there last. There were more electric lights, and the people appeared less impoverished. There was even some tourism — groups of curious foreigner staying in a village inn and taking tours of the jungle. It warmed Liberty’s heart to see how the people were now flourishing.
“What do you think?” she asked Callen, as they played chess near a lovely view of a waterfall. Tropical birds and butterflies flitted around them, and the air was filled with the cries of monkeys and other wildlife. Callen just shrugged.
Liberty spent the next few weeks talking to locals, trying to find anyone who might have a clue about her son’s condition. Most villagers shook their heads, puzzled. Liberty was starting to feel discouraged when at last, she ran into Carmencita Rosales, great-granddaughter of the village shaman.
“You say that you swam in the crystal waters of Tachauatl?” Her eyes grew as wide as the moon. “But those waters are cursed!”
“Guess we didn’t get the memo,” said Liberty.
“Were you pregnant at the time?”
“I’m not sure. I could have been.” She remembered floating around in those warm, clear pools with Al, their own private Eden. They had already been lovers by then. She could very well have been pregnant.
“This is bad,” said Carmencita. “This is very bad.”
“Is there anything that can be done?”
Carmencita frowned. “I will give you a list of ingredients. My great-grandfather can use them to make a temporary potion to ward off the curse. But your son will continue to suffer until you can provide us with the blood and tears of both the father and the mother.”
“But I don’t know where his father is!”
“Then we can only cure your son for a time.”
Liberty’s heart sank.She’d really hoped that a cure would be easier to find. How in the world could she ever manage to track down Al after all these years? For all she knew, he was living in some other rainforest as a volunteer.
“Am I going to be like this forever?” asked Callen.
Liberty straightened up and wiped her tears. “No, sweetie. I’m going to do everything I can to help you get better. Got that?” She hugged him reassuringly, then left him to play his violin near their little house as she began gathering supplies.
The list of ingredients was not easy to gather. Bark from a Yaoja tree. Three live red stinging beetles. A handful of camu camus. 10 lúcuma seeds. And more. She headed out during the early mornings, while Callen still slept, then returned, often covered in bug bites, to cook him breakfast and homeschool him.
But at long last, she had everything the shaman had requested. She and Callen remained in the rainforest for an additional month as the shaman prepared the potion. And then they packed up and returned home, where Liberty gave Callen his first dose of the foul-smelling liquid.
The effect was almost immediate. Suddenly, Callen went from being a boy whose only spark of joy came when he was playing music, to one who smiled and laughed and began to take an interest in life. He made friends at school and on their block. He even joined the Scouts, and proudly added one badge after another to his collection. Liberty’s own joy and relief was profound as she observed these wonderful changes in her son. She hated to remind herself that each bottle of potion only lasted a few months. She had to get in contact with Al before the stock ran out, and the curse stole Callen from her again.
While Callen was waking up to life and experiencing joy for the first time, Al Dawson was many miles away, in New York City, wondering why his musical talent had suddenly slipped away.