Uriel Fox and the Magic Jacket
By: John F Zurn
As he approached the small town of Providence, Uriel Fox felt a sense of hope and relief. He had been camping for several weeks, and he was tired and lonely. He now felt the need for company that often came over him after spending time alone. It was anxiety and past experiences that caused him to avoid others, but he also enjoyed his nomadic life. However, sometimes the need for others took precedence over his insatiable desire to explore new places and accept new challenges.
When Fox reached the main street of Providence, he saw only a few blocks of stores and houses. A grocery store, diner, and gas station were alongside a number of abandoned storefronts, and the once stately homes that lined the street appeared tired and rundown. Fox recognized that Providence was yet another town that had been abandoned when the highway was constructed several miles away. It was like so many other communities that had become isolated islands with infrequent visitors.
Fox continued his trek down the street past the houses and noticed a sign in a window that read, “Room for Rent.” He could hardly believe his good fortune as he approached the door and peered inside. A young girl could be seen darting around the kitchen shouting, followed closely behind by her mother. She seemed to be desperately trying to calm the child while instructing her to sit down. The girl looked fragile and her eyes expressed fear and uncertainty. Her mother was very pale and appeared to be exhausted. Her face betrayed the agony of one who looked beaten down by life and in a state of turmoil. When she noticed Fox through the screen door she became startled and embarrassed, but then approached him.
“May I help you,” the mother asked trying to hide her frustrations and exhaustion.
“I hope so,” Uriel answered kindly. “My name is Uriel Fox and I’m looking for a place to stay for a couple of weeks, and I noticed your sign in the window.”
“Yes,” the woman answered more calmly. “But I usually don’t rent to strangers and you don’t look familiar.”
“I’m retired,” Uriel chuckled knowing he was no threat. “But I do a lot of traveling.”
The mother, distracted by her daughter’s hyperactivity and emotional outburst, tried to continue while attempting to get the child’s attention. When she finally grabbed her, the mother replied, “My name is Joy, and this is my daughter, Destiny. You’re welcome to rent the room, but you must enter through the back door, and I don’t allow visitors.”
Uriel thanked Joy, appreciative to have a place to rest for a while. Seeing that Joy was preoccupied with Destiny, he entered his room just to the left of the back door. Uriel could apprehend that the girl seemed genuinely upset and couldn’t be comforted by her mother. He heard Destiny running around and crying uncontrollably. Fox immediately felt a compassionate connection with Joy and Destiny and wondered if the child was genuinely troubled or just throwing a tantrum.
Uriel decided to enter the kitchen to see if he could help. “Destiny,” Uriel began in a whispered voice, “Would you like to hear a story? If you eat your breakfast, I’ll tell you a good one.”
Joy’s reaction to Fox’s remark was initially indignant, but when the girl sat down quietly, Joy relented. She even thanked Fox for his assistance and then said, “Destiny doesn’t speak. She never has, and I can’t tell if she misbehaves because she has trouble sleeping or because she just doesn’t understand me. It’s been very difficult for me since my husband died last year. I simply can’t get Destiny to calm down. She always seems to be anxious or upset. She spends much of her time alone in her room, sometimes under her bed with a blanket.”
“Does Destiny hide under her bed for any specific reason?” Uriel interjected. “Does she seem frightened about something?”
“Nothing I can figure out,” Joy replied sadly. “But since Destiny can’t speak, I don’t know for sure.”
Suddenly, Joy began to weep uncontrollably and the old man could discern the frustration in the woman’s face. While he quietly waited for Joy to gain control of her emotions, Uriel somehow could identity with the child’s anxiety. Perhaps, little Destiny had been hiding under the bed, alone in her room, because a quiet confined space grounded her somehow. As he observed Destiny trying to sit down for breakfast, he wondered how he might help the mother and daughter.
Fox then recalled another situation long ago involving another anxious girl. He remembered that she slept with several bulky blankets and a large number of stuffed animals surrounding her every night. This gave Fox an idea. Although he couldn’t solve the problem immediately, perhaps he could come up with some article clothing that would be heavy enough to calm the child while diminishing her incessant energy.
Even while Destiny was leaving her chair and retreating to her room under her bed, Uriel had a moment of inspiration. He asked Joy to find anything resembling a sturdy vest, and then told her to search for any batteries that she might have around the house. Joy was bewildered by the old man’s strange request, but trusting him, she complied. When Joy returned with a jacket vest and a bucket of old size “D” batteries, Uriel inquired, “Do you have a sewing machine?”
Joy nodded and then led Uriel into her living room and pulled out a sewing machine from the closet. Uriel exclaimed, “Perfect! Now could you sew the batteries into the lining of the jacket to make it heavier?”
“I don’t understand all this,” Joy answered baffled by Uriel’s instructions.
“I believe a weighted jacket may help Destiny feel more at ease,” Uriel answered, “and she might be less anxious during the day, and perhaps she’ll even sleep better at night.”
Following Uriel’s direction, Joy carefully sewed the batteries snugly into the jacket at regular intervals. When she finally completed the task, Uriel continued, “Now we need to make the jacket distinctive. Do you have anything flashy that you could sew into the coat?”
Joy suggested some shiny gold buttons might work, so she retrieved them from under her machine, and at Fox’s direction, she sewed each button to the back of the jacket creating a star shaped pattern. Next, she sewed a smaller star on the front jacket pocket. When she had finished the project, Fox blurted out “That looks great!”
“But will Destiny even wear the jacket and can it help her?” Joy asked somewhat doubtfully.
“I don’t know,” Uriel replied. “But we can certainly try.”
Uriel entered the Destiny’s bedroom, looked under the child’s bed and asked quizzically, “Are you ready for that story now?”
Uriel’s soft voice seemed to have a calming effect on the child, so she came out from under the bed and sat down next to the old man. “A long time ago,” Uriel began –
improvising an appropriate story – “I met a little boy who was worried all the time. He was afraid of people, any loud noise, and even the wind outside. But he also had a way to calm himself. On his bedroom wall, he painted a gigantic star that was very sparkly. Every time he looked at that star, he’d say to himself, ‘I am protected by my star that is always with me. So I am not afraid.’”
“Destiny,” Fox paused dramatically, “that boy always tried to remember that star wherever he went, and when he was worried or frightened-guess what happened – his star made him feel better!”
When Fox had finished telling the story, Joy entered the room with the jacket.
“Destiny,” Uriel continued, “Your mother and I have made you a “magic jacket.” Whenever you wear it, remember the golden stars and say to yourself, ‘These are my stars, and they help make me happy.’”
Destiny eagerly tried to reach for the “magic jacket” and her mother helped her put in on. Then Joy said enthusiastically, “Destiny, you look so pretty and grown up. Your “magic jacket” looks great on you!”
With a sigh of relief, both Joy and Uriel could plainly observe that Destiny loved her new jacket with the hidden batteries and shiny buttons. The girl paraded around the house, made gleeful sounds, and then hugged her mother. None of the many doctors Joy went to see could make her child speak or even smile. Now, Joy felt a new sense of hope that her daughter was, at least for now, showing signs of happiness and affection.
Nonetheless, both Joy and Uriel wondered if the novelty of the new jacket would lessen over time. It didn’t. Little Destiny wore her “magic jacket” everywhere including at home, in the park and even at the grocery store. She had now become quiet as if a sense of serenity enveloped her. The only time Joy could get her daughter to remove her jacket was in the bathtub and even that was a struggle.
As the weeks went by, Uriel bartered rent money for babysitting services, and this arrangement allowed Joy to finally have some time to herself. She visited with friends, got a part time job at the grocery store, and after a month, her outlook had greatly improved.
Uriel felt content acting as a caring grandfather to Destiny and fervently hoped the child might finally talk. Even though Destiny genuinely seemed to be at peace, if she never spoke, she could probably never fully participate in all of life’s adventures. However, Fox believed that perhaps now that Destiny’s emotional nature had improved, her growing sense of confidence would allow space and time for her mind to more easily process information such as speaking and listening.
The very first time Destiny did speak, by saying the word “mommy,” Joy was overcome with emotion. It felt like a miracle. Before long, Destiny was able to identify objects and form three word statements and questions.
Since Destiny was learning to speak, Joy felt her daughter should enroll at the local school. Destiny was sleeping through the night much more often, and she could use her magic jacket for support. Joy believed she was ready. She did worry some about the other children making fun of her daughter’s limited speech and her attachment to her jacket; however, she didn’t need to feel apprehensive. The children were all friendly and welcomed Destiny into their midst as a friend. They also admired Destiny’s unique jacket. In addition, the parents of the students had always been understanding of Joy’s special circumstances and they shared in Joy’ happiness with Destiny’s progress.
As the months passed, however, Uriel finally realized that it was becoming difficult for him to remain content in Providence with Joy and her daughter. His seemingly constant need to move on and continue his travels was again becoming evident to him. Tragically, Fox’s decision was actually made for him just a few days later.
As Destiny grew ever more independent, Joy encouraged her daughter to explore the world with only limited supervision. Destiny was allowed to wander in the backyard and the playground, while Joy and Uriel kept an eye on her from a distance. Destiny seemed eager to investigate her world and try new things. Ultimately she started climbing the playground monkey bars and collecting the flowers in the meadow behind the school.
Destiny then got the idea one day that she could observe her world much better from the top a huge oak tree. Feeling self-reliant, she climbed up the massive tree limb by limb until she was nearly at the top branch. Then, as she reached over to grasp it, the weight of her jacket affected her balance, and she fell out of the tree ripping her coat. The batteries scattered everywhere and Destiny’s body landed hard on the ground. Her contorted body was seemingly lifeless.
When Joy came home from work about an hour later and found Uriel napping, she was initially unconcerned. But when she searched for Destiny and couldn’t find her in the house or in the yard, she panicked and awakened Uriel.
Together they frantically searched everywhere for the missing child until they reached the playground behind the school where Joy finally saw Destiny on the ground. When she reached her daughter, Destiny was barely conscious and quietly whimpering.
By the time they had taken Destiny to the emergency room at the hospital two towns over, Joy had concluded that Fox was to blame for her daughter’s accident. “It’s all your fault,” she yelled at him. “You fell asleep and forgot about Destiny. You also gave her that wretched jacket that made her think she could do anything. Now, my daughter could die!”
Uriel repeatedly tried to reassure Joy that her daughter would be all right, but Joy wasn’t listening. In a fit of maternal anger, she screamed, “Leave my house and never bother us again!”
Uriel could tell the child wasn’t dying because the doctors already had Destiny awake and alert, and they were x-raying her broken leg. But Destiny still wasn’t speaking. Instead she seemed to be just making unintelligible noises.
Unfortunately, Uriel’s hope that Joy would become more reasonable about the accident didn’t happen. Her anger became even more apparent whenever Uriel tried to speak. So, finally Fox left the emergency room, picked up his few belongings from the house and began hiking toward the outskirts of Providence. He was quick to blame himself and could only pray that things would work out for his friends.
Since Joy blamed Fox and the “magic jacket” for Destiny’s accident, he supposed that Joy wouldn’t sew her daughter a new one. Perhaps, the time Destiny had already spent with the jacket would be enough to allow her to further progress in her development. But that was hardly guaranteed.
Yet one thing was obvious from Fox’s latest experience; love and friendship were always conditional on events and the perception of others. Of all the disappointments Fox had experienced in his life, Destiny’s accident and her mother’s reaction were among the worst. But he knew she was right. It was his fault for falling asleep and forgetting about Destiny’s safety, and he would have to live with that undisputable fact.
Uriel Fox wasn’t sure if Joy would be overprotective of her daughter now, and he doubted she would ever forgive him. Uriel would never risk finding out. For many days, he didn’t sleep well after the incident because of his guilt and feelings of rejection. He relied on his need to move on in order to deaden his pain.
About the author
John F Zurn grew up in Elmira, NY and has an M.A. in English. He spent his career as a teacher and a counselor at a developmental training center. Now retired, he has published a number of poems and short stories. For many years writing has been an integral part of his life. As soon as he finishes one poem or story, he immediately begins planning for the next one. Mr. Zurn has been married to his wife, Donna, for over forty years.