Excerpt from MULBERRY PARK, April 2008

CHAPTER ONE

Analisa Dawson stood in the center of Mulberry Park and stared at the biggest tree in the whole world, with branches that reached all the way to Heaven. 

She fingered the gnarly trunk, then looked way up to the top, where the dancing leaves poked through the cotton clouds and waved to the sun and beyond.

It was perfect.  If she put her letter high enough in the branches, God could reach it.  But there was one little problem.  She was going to need some help. 

She glanced across the lawn where Mrs. Richards was sitting on a green park bench under the shade of another tree--one a whole lot smaller.  The nanny’s eyes were closed, her head was drooped, and her hands rested in her lap. 

Sometimes, when Mrs. Richards brought Analisa to the park and she didn’t have another lady to visit with, she dozed off while Analisa played, which is what she was doing now.  But even if Analisa wanted to wake her up--and she didn’t--poor Mrs. Richards couldn’t walk very good because she had arthritis in her knees.  So no way could she climb up a tree, especially that one, which meant Analisa would have to find someone else to help.

As she searched the park, she spotted the man who always sat at the same picnic table by the winding walkway that led to the restrooms.  Today he was wearing a yellow baseball cap and a green shirt with brown suspenders, and as usual, he was playing a game all by himself.

Mrs. Richards called it chest.  It didn’t seem like a fun game, though, because the man hardly ever smiled.

He did smile and say hello once, but when she started toward him, Mrs. Richards pulled her aside and said, “Analisa, we don’t talk to strangers.”

So she wouldn’t ask him for help.

Trevor was here again today, sitting by the monkey bars and digging a hole in the sand.  He didn’t usually talk to her.  At first Analisa thought that was because she was a girl, but then she realized he didn’t play with boys very often, either. 

Mrs. Rodriguez would help, if she was here.  But she only brought her children to the park in the afternoons or on Sunday mornings, after they went to Mass, which was the same as church but with a lot more candles. 

Analisa missed going to church, like she used to when she lived in Rio del Oro with her mother and father.  At least people talked about God there and could answer her questions. 

It was different in California.  So far, she hadn’t been able to find anyone who knew anything about Heaven.  So she’d written a letter to God, which was why she had to find someone to put it in the tree