STORIES FROM HOME - Chapter Five
Julia held out a halting hand to stop her sisters.
She was unsure what to do.
Since they had started walking, they had only slept inside once. The falling-down shed that had been their temporary shelter had looked nothing like this little house.
Most nights had found the three sisters cuddled into a pile like puppies, finding warmth and safety in tangled limbs. But none of them ever slept well, and as soon as the sun rose in the eastern sky, the grey-pink light awakened the restless girls.
But children are resilient, and although they had made sleeping outside an adventure, the thought of slumber inside a house was breath-taking.
Riley whispered loudly, “Maybe someone lives here!”
And Julia replied, “I don’t think so. I think this is an abandoned house.”
Morgan chimed in, “Julia, what does ‘abandoned’ mean?”
“Morgan, it means no one lives here, ” Julia said.
Morgan shouted, “Then we will!” and took off running toward the little house.
Her sisters quickly followed behind her and caught up with her on the front porch. With great curiosity, they looked around in the fading light.
“Oh,” breathed Riley, who had always had an artistic eye, “Look! The front door was painted red once.”
“Oh,” breathed Julia, who had always had a good imagination, “I bet a family sat here on this very porch drinking lemonade on summer days!”
“Oh!” huffed Morgan, who had always been a little impatient, “I’m going inside!” and she turned the knob and pushed the front door open.
Now sometimes when you go inside a house that’s been empty for a long time, it feels like the ghosts of memories fill up all the space and there is no room left for a welcome.
But sometimes when a house has been long and well-loved, the ghosts of memories are warm, and wrap around you like the comfort of your favorite blanket.
And that is just what all the wonderful memories inside the sad, little house did.
While the sisters stood in the front hallway with their mouths forming perfect “ohs”, the sad, little house thought very, very hard of all the wonderful times when it was filled with chaos and clatter and the chatter of children and the steady, calm voices of a mother and a father.
And the girls felt welcomed. And safe. And although it had been some time since they had felt the emotion, they knew that this little house felt like a home to them.
The girls looked carefully around the hallway in the very last light of the fading day, and they didn’t notice the piles of dead leaves and dirt. In their imaginations, they clearly saw the clutter of shoes and bookbags.
And at first, they thought they were dreaming that there were candles and a little pile of matchbooks on the dusty bottom step, but when Julia reached out to touch them, she discovered they were real. It was just as if someone had left them there for the girls to find.
Julia quickly lit a candle with shaking hands just as the dark, violet-blue rectangle of the doorway turned almost completely black, and then she firmly and quietly shut the door.
Riley and Morgan gathered close by the flickering, golden light for a whispered discussion of what to do next.
They were so tired. And somehow it felt like the right thing to start up the steep staircase together.
At the top of the stairs a small landing offered a choice of three doors.
Again, Julia put out a halting hand. Often the responsibilities of being the oldest weighed heavily on her thin, freckled shoulders. And this choice was no exception.
She hesitated a bit, uncertain of what they might find.
Morgan edged closer to her sister for reassurance. Her dark blue eyes shone with a mixture of curiousity and worry in the candle light.
This time it was Riley whose impatience got the best of her. “We can’t just stand here all night, Julia!” she said in a loud whisper. She reached out and pushed open the door on her right.
There was a bit of creaking as the hinges tried to remember their duties and small, skittering sounds of tiny animal feet running to hide
And as the girls looked around the room lit only by the candle’s dancing light, all three of them gasped in fear.
It took a moment for the girls to realize that the white ghosts filling the room were nothing more than imagination, and furniture covered in white sheets.
Between two little windows was a big, rectangular object. Julia grabbed a corner of the dingy, white cloth covering it. Riley grabbed another corner. And when they pulled, a cloud of dust surrounded them.
Coughing and sputtering, both of the older girls tried to catch their breath. When the dust cleared Julia and Riley saw Morgan already curling up on the giant, old bed.
The soft, worn colors of the old quilt on top of the high mattress looked welcoming, but Riley wanted to explore the rest of the upstairs.
“Morgan! Get up!” Riley said, “We need to look in the rest of the rooms!”
“No!” said Morgan, “I’m hungry. I’m tired. No!”
“Julia? Let’s go explore,” said Riley.
“No,” said Julia, “This feels safe. We can stay here for tonight.”
As soon as all the girls had clambered up onto the big bed, Julia unzipped her backpack and pulled out apples for dinner.
Within minutes, the apples were gone and all three sisters were cuddled into a pile, fast asleep.
And as the fireflies finished their dance under the star-filled sky, the hopeful little house waited anxiously for morning.
To be continued on Tuesday, May 25.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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