And So We Dream
“A lucidly described coming-of-age tale” about a young boy and three teenage sisters who have “a mysterious, almost mythic feminine glamour.” —Kirkus
"Linda Mahkovec discusses the importance of family, friends, hope, and love, in happy and difficult times. I would highly recommend this thought-provoking and memorable story for other readers!" —Linda's Book Obsession Blog
In this coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a lonely boy finds acceptance when he spends the summer with a loving family with three beautiful daughters.
Twelve-year-old Joey Roland is sent away to family friends while his parents try to work things out. He’s eager to leave sadness and secrets behind in Chicago and head downstate to the small town of Greenberry, where the Vitale family awaits him. He thinks of their town as boyland—a world of bike riding, fishing, and going barefoot. Though initially shy of the teenaged daughters—Anne, Vita, and Beth—they welcome him into their lives of adventure, beauty, and dreams.
Joey especially bonds with the middle sister, Vita, and her all-or-nothing pursuit of an acting career. Joey's “there must be more” merges with Vita’s “I must make it happen” resulting in a magical summer where the town of Greenbury becomes the crucible for two desperate dreamers.
SCROLL FOR SAMPLE!
Linda Mahkovec is the author of World War II historical fiction, short stories, and contemporary novels.
Themes of love, family, and home dominate her stories, and though they may be set against the backdrop of war or deal with the disappointments in life, the overarching feel is uplifting and hopeful. Threads that run through her work are the search for beauty and meaning, and the artistic female character—whether she is a painter, a gardener, or simply someone who lives creatively and seeks connection.
Mahkovec was born and raised in a small town in Illinois. She then spent several years in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle, and for the past thirty years has lived in New York City. She has a PhD in English, specializing in Victorian literature. She has previously published as Agnes Irene.
Stage lights, glittering chandeliers, ornate balconies. Crimson brocade curtains and period costumes, a deafening applause. All the stuff of magic and dreams she had so loved.
Joseph’s eyes burned with pride as he watched his old friend and mentor, Vita Vitale, standing center stage bathed in adulation from the audience. Luminous. That was the word that kept coming to his mind. Tall and graceful, the stage lights casting a golden halo around her long auburn hair. She was as beautiful as ever. No. More so. She owned it now. When he knew her, she didn’t know who she was, what she had. She was just a bundle of adolescent yearnings with vague visions of her future.
“Vita!” “Brava!” “Vita!”
All around him the audience cheered her—Vita, Vicky, Victoria, Vi. The girl with all the names. Joseph rose to his feet with the others and continued to applaud. He smiled down at his wife, happy that she was finally encountering one of those three magical sisters he had told her about—Anne, Vita, and Beth. His work had taken him to the far-flung parts of the world, and he had lost touch with the family that had helped to shape him.
Now the gap of almost twenty years had, in an instant, closed on this New York City Broadway stage. And he saw that Vita had kept her promise.
There had been updates from his mother over the years, news that Vita had met with some success. But it wasn’t until recently, now that he was back in the States, that he understood just how successful Vita had become. An unexpected trip to New York City had him reaching out to all his contacts to help get tickets for the final night of her performance.
And now, there she was, the star of a play that had been written for her. He realized with a jolt how appropriate this role was, a play that reminded him of The Tempest. From high above—cliff tops, a tower, a balcony—she wielded her power. Vita—the girl who had been afraid of heights. The brave girl who had sought out the high places in her small, flat Midwestern town in order to conquer her fears.
The curtain briefly closed, and then reopened for another round of applause. The cast linked hands and took another bow. Calls of “Brava!” and “Vita!” continued from the crowd, flowers falling about her feet. Vita took a step forward, gathered up a large bouquet into her arms, and graciously swept a low bow. She placed one hand on her heart and let her eyes travel over the audience, as if thanking each person individually.
Joseph looked about him. They loved her. Wanted more of her. She had made them feel the weight of sorrow, the desperate longing for love, and the ultimate transformation—triumph after despair. They were grateful that she had confirmed hope and love, after loss and hopelessness. She had made them believe in themselves and in the magnificent beauty of life. They didn’t want this moment to end and clapped harder in hopes of prolonging the affirmation.
The crimson curtains slowly closed, and the brightness of the house lights increased. The audience became aware of themselves now, self-conscious of their clapping, of the awkward smiles that passed between people, of the desire to linger in the afterglow of the performance.
After several minutes, the applause lessened, and eyes left the stage. The closed curtains in the bright lights no longer held the universal and the wondrous. The show was over, the magic dispelled. The lights revealed the disarray of people gathering their coats and playbills, exiting the rows, commenting amongst themselves.
Joseph put his arm around his wife’s shoulder and kissed her hair. He saw other couples with arms linked, friends placing a gentle hand on an arm or shoulder, “after you” gestures allowing others to exit the rows—he laughed at himself. Was there really such kindness and gentleness? Or was he once again seeing her world vision?
“We must hurry if we want to catch her,” his wife said, pulling Joseph into the aisle.
They wove their way through the lobby and, once outside, fell in with the line of eager fans. As they waited, the crowd grew larger.
They stood close together in the crisp autumn night, trying to maintain their position by the police barricade that separated the star-struck crowd from the path Vita would take to sign playbills and smile for photographs. Across the street, Joseph saw a similar crowd burst into cheers as the star of that show greeted his fans.
Joseph’s eyes filled with worry. Perhaps she wouldn’t come. She should have been outside by now. When would he have another chance to see her—
His wife drew a sharp breath. “Here she comes! Oh, look at her.” She pulled Joseph a step closer. “Stand here. You haven’t seen her since she was fifteen and you were— what, ten, eleven?”
“I was twelve.” Joseph realized he sounded like a boy again.
“I wonder if she’ll recognize you.”
He shook his head. Of course she wouldn’t.
He could see her clearly now. Though close to twenty years had passed, he recognized the charm and beauty, the smile and determination—and, behind the gaze, the yearning. An unanswered hunger in her eyes. The quest always in the distance.
Joseph had his playbill ready. He overheard the comments from the crowd:
“Don’t worry, she’ll sign.”
“She always makes time for her fans.”
“She’s even more beautiful up close!”
Joseph inched forward. He felt like an overgrown groupie, but he wanted to see Vita face to face, to see if she might remember him.
She made her way down the line. Though she was tall, the crowd diminished her size. Outside, she was an ordinary mortal at the end of her workday.
Yet, there was also that element that made her different from everyone he had ever known. Something that set her apart. Something solitary, otherworldly. Both proud and vulnerable. A contrast that pulled you in. She had access to the world of magic and beauty, and like an alchemist, could transmute the ordinary into the extraordinary. But it came at a price. He saw the world weariness behind the smile and imagined that she desperately needed to be alone now—or was he projecting again? They were alike, after all.
Playbills were thrust forward as Vita’s name was called out. Her manager-husband shielded her from the pressing line of admirers and kept a protective hand on her shoulder, his eyes scanning the adoring crowd.
She was close now and Joseph’s heart beat faster at her nearness. Would she recognize him?
The woman next to him extended her playbill. “To Debbie, please.”
As Vita signed, the woman bounced on her toes in excitement. “Oh, thank you! You were just wonderful! Can I take a picture with you? My sister won’t believe me otherwise.” Vita nodded as the woman twisted sideways so her friend could snap a photograph. “Thank you!”
Joseph leaned forward and offered his playbill.
Vita took it. “How shall I sign?” Her face lifted in a quick smile at him.
His heart sank. Of course, she wouldn’t recognize him, after so many years. She posed for a few cameras, poised her pen, and asked again. “To . . .?”
Joseph swallowed. “To—D’Artagnan.”
Vita’s head snapped up and her eyes flashed. “Joey!” She threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him.
“Oh, Joey!” Her embrace tightened. “Let me look at you!”
Tears shot to his eyes as she said his name. There she was, his old small-town, ordinary friend. Smiling her familiar smile.
“Hello, Vita. You were brilliant!” He took his wife’s hand. “My wife—Souad.”
“Your wife!” Vita embraced her as well. “So pleased to—”
Vita’s husband leaned forward to shake Joseph’s hand. “So this is D’Artagnan! How nice to finally meet you. I wasn’t sure you really existed.”
Joseph flooded with happiness. She had talked about him? His head turned from Vita to her husband to Souad as they all talked over one another.
“Oh, how I wish we could visit—” said Vita.
“But we leave for London in a few hours,” finished her husband. “The show opens in the West End next week.”
Vita clasped Joey’s hands. “Mom sent us photographs from your Moroccan series. They were magnificent!” Her eyes locked on Joseph’s in pride.
“They hang in our London apartment,” said Vita’s husband. “National Geographic!” “That’s—”
“Please sign,” a young woman said, snapping a photo and handing Vita a playbill.
Vita’s husband shrugged in amusement at the demanding fans. “We must get together. Soon.”
Vita looked up from signing and placed a hand on her husband’s arm. “Give him—”
But he was already handing his business card to Joseph.
Vita squeezed their hands in goodbye as she was pushed and pulled down the line. “Call us! We simply have to—” Her words were lost but she kept turning her head back, seeking Joseph, as if convincing herself that he was really there.
In a flash, he remembered her old word. “You were wondrous!” he called after her, and was rewarded by a sweet smile—the shy smile he knew so well, not the professional smile of the actor.
As she signed and posed, her eyes kept searching for him in the crowd.
“She’s just as you said, Joseph!” Souad linked her arm with his and craned her neck to keep Vita in sight.
He followed Vita with his eyes. He was filled, once again, with visions of the world as beguiling and beckoning, and the wild desire to set off on a quest.
He wrapped his arm around his wife. “I knew she’d make it.”
Souad reached up to kiss his cheek. “Just as she knew you would.”
Vita stood tall, scanned the crowd, and found him one last time. Their eyes locked and she gave the old nod of collusion—and waited, just a moment, to see if he would remember.
He broke into a smile at their old “handshake,” their unspoken pact that nothing would get in their way. Their “I will, if you will” bond. He nodded back.
He filled with all the things he wanted to say. That it was she who planted the seeds of hope in him. She who believed in the part of him that was bold and brave and adventurous. She who convinced him that nothing was more important than playing an active role in this wild and wonderful world.
Joseph watched the crowd as it closed around her and her magic. The glittering lights of the theater marquees doubled in brightness for the Night Queen. Or perhaps it was tears of joy that blurred his vision.
Seeing her again had conjured up the past, and he remembered—as if it were just yesterday—that summer.
The summer he learned to dream.
This was why he didn’t like Chicago. The train station so crowded you couldn’t see anything. Just a swirl of people, brushing and bumping against him as he stood next to his parents. His dad reluctant to hand over the small suitcase.
His mother leaned over one more time to kiss his cheek, smooth his hair, and straighten his collar. “You be good. And call us the moment you arrive.” She handed him the sack lunch she had made.
Joey wished she hadn’t stayed up late baking cookies for him. Her face looked strained, as if she hadn’t slept.
They moved closer to the train.
“You brought your books?” his father asked.
Joey patted his jacket.
“You have a good time,” his mom said. “Play with the neighborhood kids. Remember, the girls are older now and have jobs and boyfriends.”
Joey nodded. “I won’t bother them.”
“And remember, Victoria—as she’ll always be to me—now goes by Vita.”
Joey added that to his list of things to remember.
His father gave a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Everything will be all right, son. We just need a little time to work some things out. That’s all. And in the meantime, you’ll be with your friends, having all kinds of adventures. And the girls . . . What did you used to call them? The Petticoat Junction sisters?”
Joey shrugged. “I don’t know.” He reached for the suitcase.
“Take care, son.” His father’s voice broke.
Joey’s eyes darted around his dad’s face, looking for an answer. Inside, he said, Please don’t cry, please don’t cry, not sure if he meant him or his dad.
“ALL ABOARD!” came the conductor’s long up-reaching cry.
The people in line began to make their way onto the train, waving goodbye, giving a few final embraces. Joey turned around and hugged his mother. “Sorry, Mom.”
“Nonsense. This will be good for you. A little break is all you need. We’ll—we’ll . . .”
“Call when you get there, son.” His father lurched forward in an awkward embrace.
“I will. Bye, Dad.” His eyes began to burn and he squeezed them shut. For one safe moment, he let himself sink into the comfort of his dad’s chest. Then he broke apart and boarded the train.
Joey turned to the left and walked down the aisle behind the other passengers. Midway, he found an empty row. He stashed his suitcase on the overhead rack and sat at the window.
There was his dad, standing marooned, his shoulders pulled down by heavy rock hands. A pasted-on smile that matched his mom’s.
She touched a hankie to her nose, raised her hand, lifted her head.
Joey waved back. Please don’t cry.
Then, in a gesture Joey would always remember—because it was so unfamiliar—his dad draped his arm around his mom’s shoulder. They stood smiling with worried eyes, looking like cardboard-cutout parents that he didn’t recognize.
He became aware of the shuffling all around him as people took their seats. A quick reassuring glance out at his parents. He waved again. And again. They hadn’t budged.
Joey’s hand tightened on the armrest when the train began to move, leaving his parents behind. A final wave, in case they were still looking, in case they could still see him.
He leaned back and released his clutch on the sack lunch, keeping his eyes fixed on the back of the seat ahead of him. Like gazing into a deep black pool that had no reflection. It grew deeper and darker.
He rubbed away the vision and raised his head above the seats, looking in front of him and then behind.
He didn’t see any other kids on the train—none by themselves anyway. He had never traveled alone before. He felt a little older. Like he was already thirteen and had been for a long time.
People were settling in, putting bags and suitcases on the overhead rack, then deciding that they needed a jacket or book that was packed, and getting settled again.
Across from him, two older ladies arranged their knitting projects on their laps. One had a ball of pale pink yarn. The other had shades of blue.
Behind them, two men with Afros were talking about ’Nam. Twisting in their seats, spitting mad. Saying it wasn’t their war. Joey’s next-door neighbor in Chicago, Tony, also had to go to Vietnam. He gave Joey his football pennant when he left. It had felt like a goodbye gift. Maybe it was.
One of the men shot his eyes to Joey and raised his chin.
Joey leaned back in his seat, realizing that he had been staring.
He wanted to tell them that he hoped they would come back. That they wouldn’t get hurt. That’s what he had told Tony. But once the words were out of his mouth, he wished he had thought of something better to say.
Joey looked at the seat back again. In six years or so, it would be his turn to go to war. And who knew if he would come back.
People from the train car behind his were pushing the doors open, hoping to find seating together. He was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, he would have the whole seat to himself.
No such luck. He moved his jacket to his lap as a large man claimed the seat beside him. Joey looked up at him, ready to give a smile, but the man wasn’t interested in being friendly.
Joey leaned his head back. They were outside the station now. A fine drizzle on the window obscured his view.
The conductor made his way from seat to seat, waddling with the rhythm of the train. Joey lifted his ticket and tried another smile, but the conductor didn’t feel like being friendly either. He punched Joey’s ticket and continued down the aisle.
Joey wondered if his parents were out of the station by now. Were they seated in their car yet? Were they talking on their way back home? Or sitting quietly, deep in their faraway worlds.
After chugging along, the train picked up speed. The drizzle blew sideways in little streaks and cleared the window somewhat, revealing the wide railyard and the world outside. The pale morning air looked sooty. Like some kid had chosen a gray crayon and colored the world blah. His stomach tightened as he gazed out at the rails and tracks converging and splitting off to countless destinations. If the train broke down and he had to get out, he would be lost for sure. This time, without any idea of how to get back home. Broken bottles and papers littered the tracks. Farther away, industrial warehouses and sad-looking buildings leaned against the gray sky. Not a speck of color anywhere. He shut his eyes against the dizzying pull of so many different directions, glad he was going to one place. One very specific place where it would be hard to get lost once he was there.
He rubbed his eyes. They felt grainy from barely sleeping last night. “Don’t bother the girls,” his mother had said as she packed his suitcase. “They’re four years older since the last time you saw them. Teenagers now. Play with the neighborhood boys. And help Sal with his garden.”
“I will.” He would try not to get in anybody’s way. His parents had talked late into the night, this time in soft voices. The one time he wanted to hear them, he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
They were sending him away for the remainder of summer. Alone for the first time in his life. Shipping him off. Dumping their problem on someone else. Joey folded his arms. For the rest of July and all of August, he would be far away from home.
And he was glad.
Anything was better than the arguments. Sitting in his room. Waiting for it to be over. Trying to read. Sometimes covering his ears. Pretending to be asleep at night. His dad sitting with his head in his hands. His mom staring out the window while tears rolled down her cheeks. Was it really so hard to get along? Sometimes he wished they would get a divorce. Just to make it end. But then—he didn’t want to be without either one of them. It was at such times that he wished he had a brother. Or sister. A big family.
He twisted angrily in his seat and stared at the passing world. Shoving him off to his mom’s old friend so he wouldn’t be in the way while they probably got divorced. Then what? Or more likely, they would move somewhere. Again. They had moved many times—three towns or cities that he could remember. Four different houses. It always seemed to help for a little. He bounced back and forth between anger and sadness and just plain old feeling lost in it all.
He looked out the rain-streaked window again. The same sad buildings were still there—as if they had moved along with the train. Making their escape. Or maybe they just went on forever.
The train was speeding along now. The wooden ties and rails ran on and on, a low heartbeat throbbing beneath the wheels. Now and then the long, sad wail of the train whistle sounded above the heartbeat. It was comforting, somehow. Like it was on his side. It was comforting to be moving. Going somewhere. Anywhere.
He pulled up the collar to his jacket, tucked his head between the seat and wall, and closed his eyes. His body rocked with the rhythmic rumble of the train. The fatigue of the past few days took over, and he gave into a deep, welcoming sleep.