Saturday, November 8, 2008
Joey stood on the sidewalk with her fists straining against the insides of her jacket pockets, her cheeks rosy as she gasped against the autumn wind. Sternly informing herself that another trip around the block (over oh-so-familiar cracks in the sidewalk and the black wrought-iron fence that she'd always admired) was NOT necessary, she pressed her lips into a grim line and walked up the newly painted steps, past plump, cheery pumpkins and stopped to knock at the red door.
There had been a time when she had scrambled breathless up these steps and burst through first the porch door, and then the more substantial front door calling, "I'm here! Nana! Grandpa, are you home?" She remembered hurtling forward, sure of her welcome. She wasn't sure why she'd come now. Now that this house no longer belonged to her family; now that her grandparents were beyond her reach. The new owner of the house was equally out of reach currently, as no-one had answered her rap on the glass of the storm door. Pressing the levered handle of the door, she felt like a penitent in a house of worship as she stepped onto the enclosed porch to knock more forcefully on the inner door.
Joey's heart hammered in her throat and she had to grasp the door frame for support at the familiar sound of dog nails clicking against the hallway floor and staccato barks followed by a woman's voice calling, "I'm coming!Charlie, no! One minute, please..." When the door swung open, a young blond woman stood just inside, her right hand grasping the thick collar of a large taffy-colored mutt who strained on his hind legs against the strength of the woman's grip as he struggled to sniff Joey and wag his whole body at the same time. The woman said laughingly, "You'll have to excuse his manners, he's had no upbringing! Can I help you?"
Joey had rehearsed what she would say on the drive over, and then again as she found a parking space, lost her nerve, and walked around the block. It was just now she realised that nothing she said would keep her from feeling stupid. "I used to live here. I mean, my grandparents used to live here and I was wondering if I could walk through the house because I heard that sometimes people can do that!" she finished in a rush. The owner of the house appraised Joey for a moment through narrowed gray eyes, and seemed to time her decision to the moment when Joey's hands instinctively moved to cup the dog Charlie's face in an attempt to soothe his increasingly wild gyrations.
"I suppose that would be alright, though we weren't planning for company today. You'll have to excuse the mess," she backed into the house, grunting, "My name is Quinn!" as she struggled to pull her recalcitrant canine companion across the floor to allow Joey's entrance. Joey smiled, and the butterflies that had taken up residence in her belly the last few hours subsided considerably. "I'm Joey Maegestro. Don't worry about the mess; Nana always said, 'An immaculate house is the sign of a misspent life.' "
Inside, Joey saw a Big Wheel in primary colors parked halfway between the entryway and the living room, a far cry from the classy old-world-style elements that the room had entertained in Nana's time, but charming none-the less. Two small children, one fair-haired and the other brunette, stared solemnly through their mother's gray eyes as they stood arm-in-arm in the kitchen hallway. Joey couldn't determine the age or sex of either child, having no experience in that sort of thing, and was relieved when Charlie turned his attentions away from her to jump up and lick their faces, making them laugh and forget about her, too.
Following Quinn through the house, Joey felt herself letting go of the past a little more with each redecorated room, until she stood in the little postage-stamp of a backyard and surveyed the bright, thick expanse of grass. "I'm so glad that you chose to make this a lawn. I always hated the brick patio and how bare the vegetable garden looked most of the year."
"We installed a swing set behind the garage. You can't see it from here, but it's a perfect play area for the girls, and I can watch them easily from there," Quinn nodded toward a white Adirondack chair near the opposite fence corner.
Joey turned and squinted up at the second and third stories of the house. "You installed a rail on the balcony! That was always 'my' room, you know. We were always forbidden from going out that door, but my cousin Stephanie and I always did anyways."
Quinn shivered, having foregone a jacket for this quick trip outside. "Do you mind going in? I don't like to leave the kids unattended for more than a few minutes, especially with Charlie. They're all fairly well behaved, but I try not to tempt fate. There's always the possibility that today's the day they'll forget to use their powers for good and not evil!"
Once inside, Quinn's daughters fell into trailing the grown-ups as Joey led the way back to the entry way and up the stairs that rose along the wall opposite the living room. Running her hand along the wall, which was now bare but had once been home to a replica of Mozart's death mask, Joey smiled at the creak in the seventh step, smiling over her shoulder to say, "I'm glad you didn't have that fixed." Where the stairs turned, she spun and put her hands on her hips before asking, "Do you know the secret?" Quinn and the children didn't.
Placing her hands lightly over two of the items displayed on the built-in bookshelf on the landing, Joey asked, "May I?" Quinn nodded and looked increasingly curious as Joey carefully placed first the decorative figurines, then the books and lastly the lifted-out shelves onto the risers of the next flight of stairs . Joey glanced at Quinn's reaction as she released the well-hidden catch, and the back of the bookshelf swung away from her, revealing a tiny hidden room. After sitting on the lower, stationary portion of the bookcase, Joey pivoted on her backside and swung her legs into the secret nook. Bending at the waist, Joey lifted first one girl and then the other into their newly found play area before turning to open the box full of photographs, letters and, at the very bottom of the box, bonds that had been left behind, waiting for her.
Posted by Shangrila at 10:47 PM