The House – Continued (1500 Words, Week 2, Day 7, 12/31/17)
At the end of a winding road stood a massive piece of architecture. Built before plans were done on paper, the house stood, almost defiantly, alone on the large plot of land. There were fourteen trees surrounding the house. The ones on the sides, three on the right and three on the left, were tall and thick and full of fat green leaves. In the front and the back grew stolid evergreens, four across the back and two on either side of the ornate front door.
The bold brick façade seemed to swallow the sun as it passed. It had three stories to contend with, and small fourth story that perched dead center on the building. The windows were set up in such a way that it felt like the house staring at passerby, each trimmed in a different color. The roof hung over on all four edges, far enough to create something of a moat around the house where plants would not grow. Beyond this dead space the grass was green and lush and full of life.
The house was empty. Its walls were multi-colored only because of the bright spots left by missing paintings and pictures. The floor had texture only because of the clean spots made by rugs that had disappeared. The chairs missed their cushions, as did what used to be the sofa. The tables, tall and low, held nothing beyond scratches and stains. The light from outside was the only thing that filled the rooms, and only that because the curtains and blinds and shades were all gone.
The house was empty. It was not quiet.
Each room sang a different song. Crafted by the wind sneaking through the gaps and cracks, and the shudders from the unstable studs, the house was full of sounds. Treble and bass clefs were well represented. Taken all together there were harmonies present, filling the space left by missing things.
The house was empty. It was not odorless.
Smells clung to the walls and the furniture, serving as unspoken memories of the people and things that once were. Pet smells in and around the chairs. Food smells in the kitchen and in rooms upstairs. The dank smells of death danced with the lingering smells of tobacco. Damp scents hovered around the stairs and bathrooms, empty though they were. Perfume wafted in and around it all, making the house feel like it had been empty for years and as if people had just left, closing the door behind them.
The house was empty. It was not dead.
Life persisted there, in the corners and behind the walls. Spiders continued their busy work up high by the ceiling, still in hiding out of habit. The scuffling of mice added to the songs and smells of the house. Silent creatures with more legs than were useful stood frozen behind pipes. Moths danced around in closets, looking for food that wasn’t there. Only the dust mites were content and still thanks to all the source material left for them.
Greta wrote her name carefully at the top of the page. She didn’t like her name, particulary, though she did like that it was all her own. Everything else she had was shared or inherited. Her name was hers completely – she wasn’t named after anyone, she didn’t know anyone else with her name, and she didn’t run into it in stories. She was a bit concerned about Hansel and Gretal since that came perilously close, so she skipped over that one in her books. She placed her name at the top of each sheet in her diary, even though she didn’t love it, to remind her that these pages belonged to her as well, even though the cover was a hand-me-down. The paper and her thoughts didn’t have to be shared if she didn’t want to and that would have to do.
Greta hummed a soft tune of her own creation as she filled the page. Sitting on the floor in the corner of the room she shared with the other children was how she liked to spend the time between school and chores. These 60 minutes belonged to her – the rule was they were “free” until 5 pm. In the summer, Greta would spend this free time outside, soaking up as much of the sun from as far away from the group home as possible. Her hope, that she wrote in very tiny letters in the bottom corner of every page, was that she wouldn’t have to be here once summer rolled around again. She’d written that hope so many times her fingers did it without her direction. She trusted that it would happen one of these days and knew that any day could be The day.
“Scribblepus is in the corner, writing all the time. Scribblepus is in the corner, doesn’t have a dime.” Janet sung her teasing rhyme as she entered the room and the girls trailing behind her giggled encouragingly. Greta kept her head down and her pencil moving while Janet flounced over to the bed Greta slept in these days and flopped down onto it, shoes and all.
“Whatcha writing today, Scribblepus?” Beth squatted down to Greta’s level just beyond arm’s reach. She didn’t sing or tease like Janet, and Greta could feel a difference in her attention.
“Same as every day, Beth. My thoughts and ideas, hopes and dreams.” Greta knew that answering was the fastest path to solitude.
“Ooh! Maybe today will be the Magic Day, Scribblepus! The day you get swept away from here, just like you’ve always wanted.” Janet had been in the home longer than Greta and didn’t show any signs of wanting anything different from her life. “Though I don’t know who you think is coming to get you. Wait – maybe they need help at the dictionary store!” The laughter rang out from Janet’s “friends” even though what she said didn’t really make sense.
“Leave her be, Janet. At least she’s met a dictionary.” Beth stood up and faced Janet, blocking Greta from view. Greta just kept writing, letting their bickering float into the background. She didn’t know why Beth cared what Janet said or did to her when she didn’t care herself. If Beth wanted to pick a fight to while away their free time that was up to her.
Greta was so absorbed with her writing and with ignoring the back-and-forth between the two girls that it wasn’t until the third time her name was called that she heard and noticed. The room went silent as Greta stood to answer the call – they weren’t used to her leaving her post until free time was over, and they’d been too absorbed in their pointless argument to have heard the calls themselves. All eyes turned towards the doorway to see a tall, imposing woman standing there, holding a heavy envelope.
“Greta?” The woman scanned the room, clearly unsure of which one of them was the girl she was looking to find.
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m Greta.” She didn’t know what to expect from this woman, and she sure wasn’t going to miss whatever it was she had to say, so she moved with speed to get between the other girls and the woman.
The woman eyed her up and down, nodding slightly. “Yes, yes you are, aren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am? Should I know you?”
“Oh, no, I don’t think you should before now. In this moment, however, you should indeed make my acquaintance, don’t you think?”
Greta blinked three times working to sort out that statement before taking another step towards the woman and holding out her hand. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Greta. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Yes, yes. That’s just the way. Good afternoon, Greta,” the mysterious woman said while gripping Greta’s offered hand in a soft yet firm handshake. “Quite pleased to finally meet you. My name is Ms. Heelon, and I’m to give you this.” She handed the heavy envelope to Greta.
“Thank you, Ms. Heelon. Shall I open this now?”
“Oh, yes, I very much think you should. Open it quickly and read it, and then get ready to join me. You’ll need to bring all your things of course, since we won’t be returning.”
Greta blinked three more times. “I’m sorry – did you say we won’t be returning? For how long?”
Ms. Heelon let a small laugh escape her lips, “Why, forever. Unless you want to return – that will, of course, be entirely up to you.”
Gretta looked over her shoulder at Beth, the closest person she had to a “friend” here, and raised her eyebrows in a silent question. Beth grinned and nodded, pointing to the envelope. Greta looked down and saw just her name on the front – no other information or markings. She flipped it over and tugged at the flap. Three things fell out of the envelope – a key, a photograph, and a folded piece of paper. Greta sat down on the floor to collect and inspect the items, still trying to work out what Ms. Heelon had said. She unfolded the piece of paper first and found it to be filled with very neat handwriting:
“Greta, it is time for you to leave this place and go on to what’s next. You have finished the necessary learning available here. Ms. Heelon will accompany you and will, henceforth, be your companion. You and she are expected at 828 Knotted Pine Lane, and making this house your home is your responsibility. This will be a very different experience for you, with additional learning expected. I trust that you, with the help of Ms. Heelon, will do fine with the new challenges. Bring only the things that are truly yours with you, and leave all the rest for she who will follow you. It is time.”
Greta looked down and collected the photograph and the key. They seemed normal enough objects. She looked up at Ms. Heelon. She seemed like a normal enough woman. She looked back at the letter. Though it was on normal enough paper its contents were just plain abnormal. The decision she made to go along with it, to see this house and put her trust in Ms. Heelon, took a split second. She had wished and wished and wished to not be in this group home any longer and, odd as the situation was, her wish had come true.
Without speaking she went back into the corner and collected her journal. She looked around the room and knew that nothing else was truly hers which meant it all needed to stay. She turned to Beth and said, “Farewell. Thank you for your kindness.”
Beth looked from the woman to Greta before answering. “Um, farewell? If you do think about us, come back and visit?”
“Perhaps. Though you may not be here by then, hopefully.”
Beth smiled. “True enough.”