A short story
Opening the barn door she crept inside to find her children hidden away in the old steamer trunk. The barn was dark and dusty; the air steeped in the sweet hay and moistened with the morning midst. It had been so long. Play was almost a forgotten concept to her. She approached slowly with caution not knowing how they might respond when she let them out. What would they do or say. Would it be as if she had never left? Could it be? Longing for them her hand was on the hinged clasp. The key, if only she could remember the hiding place so long ago… so secretly and carefully preserved. It was under the heart shaped stone at the
Exhausted she fell against the chilly cobble stone wall and wept. The sweetness of the hay was a comfort and a balm. After a long while she was all wept out. She had landed so hard against it that she dislodged some of the mortar and this gave her an idea. If only she could scrape away the reinforcement that held that heart so firmly in place. Perhaps trying to pry the stone heart out was going about it the wrong way. To chip out the mortar would take time and persistence. It would be difficult but she had always been a determined girl.
The old trunk had sunlight streaming on it through the cracks in the planked roof. The light invited her into a fight. That key must be recovered and the trunk has to be opened. She just had too! More than any thing she had to get that trunk open let her little ones out and play. Play with abandon. Relax and create and forget all that had to be done or accomplished. No work, no lists, no obligations to be filled or expectations to be met. The only pretense was within her imagination not for any one else to judge or accept.
What tool could be used? Then she remembered the old gardener who lived next door. The hours she spent just sitting and watching him. The long screwdriver like tool he used to uproot the weeds. He spent so many hours using that tool. On his face was always a look of great satisfaction as if he was better than those stubborn weeds. He knew the trick to pry them loose at the root. He told her once that that was the thing to do to stop them from growing back. His knowledge about the subject always spoke more deeply to her than even her school books. He said that the weeds broken off at the surface just developed a stronger root. She felt like there were so many strong roots here within the heart shaped stone. She just wanted to rip them up and make them let that stone go free. If only she could get to that key if only she had that long handled tool the gardener used.
As she headed out and across the pasture her hopes were high that the gardener would be there. She saw the flourishing green of his garden patch a long way off. His was the greenest and tallest of the entire neighborhood. He was often hard to be seen because of his work on his knee. Hidden by the thriving vivacity around him she learned to watch for the rustling of leaf. There it was and she approached the wise old man. “Hello I have come to ask a favor of you sir”
“Well now little Lady how can I be of assistance to you?”
“Sir, she began, I need a tool to help me get to a treasure.”
“A treasure it is, how could I rightly refuse to help rescue a treasure?”
“You see sir it is stuck behind a stone I hid it there a long time ago. I want to get it out and I thought if I could use the weeding tool that I might just be able to hew out the mortar. The stone is wedged so tight and the foundation must have shifted a bit. Please Sir may I borrow it? “
“It sounds very important. Yes child.”
Handing her the tool he smiled much like that smile of deep satisfaction he always had while pulling out those stubborn roots from his garden.
She raced back across the yards to the barn and within that place she fell to her knees at the base of the wall. With her breadth coming in gasps she began to chip at the lines that locked the door to her key. She chipped and struck at it for what seemed like years. Exhausted she leaned back against the wall to rest. The sun had shifted and now the trunk was in the shadows. Visions of the children locked inside creped into her mind. Those soft faced and questioning eyes of innocence before her, she could almost hear them ask her to come and play. She was missed and longed for. Yet only she knew how to find the key.
What if they didn’t like who she had become? Or what if she forgot their names and they get mad. Would they like the ideas shared. Will they share their own ideas? Will they feel safe, will she feel safe? The art and skill of simply beings herself was now lost. Being; is a forgotten art. The craft of it lost. Found doing more and more in the pace of her daily routine. Where has the artist gone? This routine now has consumed her and all of the value she once found in innate simplicity. The innocence of youth she wondered, where have I gone? The eyes of a puppy are so inviting they speak of these things also. The voices of children with imagination spinning into form story telling in the purest form. It sounds like this…“Lets say he did this” and “then he will do this” so on with ideas flowing in the air as if the whole process was a natural law. Cues are taken and acted on as if the whole story was being pealed like a juicy orange. Mist of essences oils escaping into the air fragrant and pure. Oh the joy of it. Play where explanations flow without restraint offense or defense. Where have all the stories gone?
Within the trunk, there must be a place of magic where the defenses and offenses and fears of offenses can just evaporate into the essence of the mist. Peal afresh the fruit of creative flow. Get the key out and open the lock and play.
The mortar stung as it struck hands and face. In fervor the reinforcement failed. The rock began to shift ever so slightly and gave way to hope of a key. The Promise of freedom, of an escape, called to her. Children’s voices and laughter pined for her to continue her efforts toward play. She eagerly wanted to play. Play, be more and do less. With a thud it fell out upon the floor. There dull and antiqued in its finish was the key. Embracing it she rested a moment. With great courage and carelessness she walks over to the locked trunk. She bravely held out the key and touching the top of the truck with her other hand she braced herself and inserted the key into the hinged locked. The rust held it and made her force the issue. As it turned she began to hear laughter and a smile began to creep upon her face. A light began to develop in her eyes. She could see the promise. Yet, she was afraid. So many times her light was covered by the others, those who disallowed play. Those who had never really accepted her or her children, frightened them into the trunk in the first place. She just hooked the latch so that no one could find them. So threatened she even hid the key. That is why your in here she whispered to them. I don’t ever want you to be hurt again.
The loneliness suffered all to be safe. Sorrow and want for company was worth protection of innocence and wonder. So priceless, eyes tiered up at the want of friendship, a fellowship in play.
The clasp had become one with the surrounding metal. The corrosion made the key flex. Worried of the outcome she thought better than to force the issue. Metals locked tight against the action of the key.
Even with the displaced heart stone, key in hand, time had proven an enemy. Tears fell down. Oceans were born.
She just wanted to play, but always a battle a war to fight. Soldiered then recruited into action just to gain a simple freedom. Shadows grew darker. A chill came upon her. She was so close to the laughter those knowing eyes of youth.
Liniment for sore muscles was in the horses stall. It was in an old tin can; a disk, with a snap on lid. Once opened she could smell the camphor and tea tree oils. If; she pondered, so she did. It was like rubbing down tired legs. The clasps drew in the succulent oils. The dullness changed much like she had. It transformed into lush beauty. Hues of orange, pewter and pitted brass metal upon metal the components were defined clearly now. How the balm had awakened the truth of what they were. She rubbed the key as well and the antiqued silver tuned even darker. Glossy now it was no longer so rough on her finger tips. It had become somehow friendlier. O how this treasure now embraced felt warm. She walked all the way back over to the trunk and re-inserted the key She tried to turn it. The chalkiness of the clasps was less dusty now. Grains of debris made loose brushed away from the surface. It had become a bit grimy. That gritty grimy clasp held her back from the goal. Now she was forced to scrub and clean the surface so that the goal could be achieved. A face hotter and rouged with anger and frustration gave way. Voice raised into a desperate irritated growl. I just wanted to play! That’s all I just want to play!
She fell back into the hay and was vacillating between throwing an angry fit and just resigning into the depression that comes with giving up. For now she was exhausted and the hay was under her and the grime was on her. Sorrow apathy anger and loneliness blanketed her while the visions of those distant memories of long ago drew her into a better place a better world.
Dawn pulled her out of the peace of sleep. The children…, then she was drawn back into battle. There was a war at hand and she had her role. Rising to the challenge once again intent fixed and focused. Yet she wondered if it was all worth it or just wasted time.
It seemed cruel to have to fight so hard. Everything seemed to cooperate if she was pouring herself out like a cup of old tea, but a fresh pot was always a battle. Hunger was always dismissed into what ever was at hand. Horses’ oats were just as well as a feast with others who left her heart empty and wanting. So oats and barley grain was her feast. Water was another story and for that she would have to pay. Pay dearly she did for it would take hours to return to her goal her task. Once distracted into the grind she would have to lay in wait for an opportunity to return to her own desires.
It was past noon when she returned to task. She kept the scrub brush back from chores inside and with it she scoured both hasp and lock plate. Returned the key into the rightful place, hoped begged and promised loyalty and turned the old blackened key. Grinding in its’ place the vibrations of the tumblers gave way to hope. Her hope had been deferred for so long. The tumblers continued and the clasp came free. The grip it had on the hinge was firm and she used both hands to lift it free. She unhooked the safety clasps and laid the trunk gently down on its side and smiled. Bravely pushing through a little fear, she raised the lid. What she saw shocked her. She had forgotten about the consequences of time. Her dear ones once so chubby and full faced were now emaciated, cowering shivering. Eyes so tenderly trusting of her were fixed upon her. She gently led them out one by one. As they lifted themselves to feet muscles that were withered refused to function. They held fast to the truck wall for support in all thirty three of them came near. Near to starvation through the deprivations that fear, pain, sorrow and shock had afforded them. What once was thought her time to play had now become their time to be healed? It was up to her to bring them all back to health and to give the hope that they need.
For now this will be her play time to heal her playmates and bring a greater trust to the game. So that one day with vitality and joy the games can begin. Until then never will she lock them up to keep them safe again. Lessons learned gave her the wisdom to know that there is no safety to be found in the darkness of solitude.
She asked them to dinner a private feast just a small reception to get re -acquainted again. She had oats and barley. She rubbed their legs with the camphor liniment. It hurt them to be touched. It had been so log. They shared old stories. Talk of memories of provision and times of pleasure. With the perspectives that differed came a greater understanding of all things told. Thirty three minds together became the glue for her unity of thought.
They were sore of tooth and dry of throat. Water was longed for but it was not understood the price she had to pay to gain it. Her heart did not want to suffer them the details. So she spoke of her absence to be for a few hours but that she would hurry back as soon as she could. So torn and afraid to walk away that she might never return. They were so fragile and innocent to the greater world around them. They must not fall prey. She could not put them back in the trunk, no not ever. She must warn them yet not frighten them. She has to fill them up with wisdom so that the dependence upon her
changes into independence.
“Here’s the thing” she began……
“I have to go up to the big house. You were so little last time you were there. It is a better place now but you are still very vulnerable there. I have to go there to get us the water we need. I will get supplies but for now please keep sheltered in the shadows. You will be able to see and hear and smell the world around you but it is not ready to see or hear or smell your presence. They can’t understand you yet. Be wise my little ones we all have a lot of growing up to do.
Day after day she went about her responsibilities. Each passing day she breathed them in and embraced them. Each one having unique personality; talents and skill sets were as individual as each child. She took it all in she grew in understanding. They missed her when she was at the big house working but she always came with water to refresh them. Water was their biggest thrill. During the long stint in the trunk the days were dry. They were so withered with neglect.
Each day came with the promise of play, but when? With the work that lasted well into the night. Sometimes just taking them supplies was playing in itself. Seeing the flesh coming back on the bone and the spark returning to their eyes gave her joy.
One evening she gathered them around the grand barn doors swung open wide. The moon was full and faces shone with eager wonder. They spoke of the games of youth; many she had never even heard of. Thirty three children all wanted to speak at once.
Rose was cunning with patty-cake she could induce the other into a race at break neck. Tongues would tie yet she would keep the pace. Rhythm was a joy to her. The sting of her hands made here feel alive and vital. Poetry was a power house and she could be the utility for a city. Words were a treasure. She could cut like a sword; or heal like a balm.
These are all games of childhood and mine is over now. How can I play like a child I am all worn out? I need others to help you now and risking that is a frightening thing. All of you will just stay this way without many more lessons that I am not equipped to give you.
What do they call you now, they asked her? I was once called Vivacious, I have even been known as tenacious. Once I was a White Raven but, they have just called me Donetta for a long time now.
It seems every time I tried to play something bad would happen. I was always told that it was my own fault. I could do nothing right, and I am angry about it! When ever I would even think of just letting go just relaxing for one minute as soon as she let her guard down some calamity would roll in. Nothing was different now it all sounded the same inside. As soon as the thought of letting go of diligence occurred, something would happen in my world.
When the children asked her why it took so log for her to search out the key, a pregnant pause left the air still and breathless. Her breadth has been held like that for so long it felt familiar and normal. Suffocating, she blurted out “I’m afraid they will find me if they hear you breathing.” Gasping she refused the fear and was provoked so that she choked. She held her own mouth so that the silence might keep her safe. You know this gets harder as you older she told them.