It had been the summer of Nancy Drew mysteries and the slow, fond farewell to her collection of Barbie dolls. She was almost eleven, just at that age when a young girl is caught between childhood fancies and pre-teen yearnings.
Hard to believe she’d once been that young… that carefree. But she must have – the proof was in the photograph, the photograph she hadn’t viewed in years.
Brother Jack had come by the house to begin crating up all the minutia of fifty years of family life hidden in Mother’s attic.
Time now to say goodbye to the old house. Mother was gone, the stroke taking her – too soon, Mama, too soon! – from Maggie. Mother gone, and the vestiges of the past floating out the door like beloved ghosts surprised to find themselves suddenly set free.
Maggie, too, was now to be set free from the old Victorian that had been specially equipped. It was time to move on.
Sensing her sadness, Jack paused in the boxing up of family memories and looked at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, Mags, but it’s for the best. You know you can’t stay here – on your own, the house is too much for you.”
She knew he was right. Still, it was hard to hear. This was her home, her refuge from the world’s harsh, curious eyes.
“You could live with me and Molly, you know. We’d love to have you with us, and so would the kids.”
Maggie smiled at her younger brother. He was a good man, and his lie a gracious one. She knew he’d welcome her with open arms… but Molly? Poor Molly, was it fair? She had her hands full with the kids and a toddler who’d made her appearance rather late in their lives. No, Molly had enough to deal with. Besides, theirs was a small house with long, narrow hallways and steep stairs.
It was Jack who found the old carton of Nancy Drew books and cast-off Barbies in various stages of disrepair.
“Hey, Mags! Look at these,” he said, lifting one of the Nancy Drew books from the carton. “You always had your nose in a book. You certainly loved these old mysteries.”
I held my childhood favorite – ‘The Hidden Staircase’ – its pages smelled of yesteryear, a musty scent reminding me of long-ago summer days, me seated on the old metal glider on the back porch, working with Nancy to puzzle out the innocent crimes that confronted her.
Something buried within the pages suddenly drifted gently to the floor. Curious, I bent forward, trying to retrieve it.
“Here, let me get it, Mags,” chided Jack. “Be careful… you don’t want to tip over.”
The well-meant warning annoyed me, and it was with poor grace that I took the photo from him.
Gazing at a moment frozen in time, something inside me suddenly bloomed. Something I’d long thought dead; the feeling of being free.
Look at her!
That beautiful young girl, a smile on her face, the wind in her hair, the sun kissing her rosy cheeks – look at her! Expectant. Joyful. And why not? Hadn’t life always been good? Long summer days spent reading, drinking Mother’s sweet tea, eating fried chicken and potato salad. Days when Jack would surprise her with a good dousing from the garden hose as she jumped off her bike, happy, tired, sweaty.
Maggie closed her eyes, hearing once again the sound of shrieks of pleasure as she tried to escape the pelting spray of the hose.
Her thin, pale fingers lightly caressed the smooth surface of the photograph, hoping by touch to escape into that world once more. She wanted again to experience a summer’s day, wanted to feel her legs pedaling in the wind, feel the propulsion of her movement. Oh yes… oh yes…
She could feel it, she could! She could hear her giggles of childish delight! She could hear the birds that had been in the trees, filling the blue sky with birdsong –
And then she heard something else, the squeal of tires as the milk truck screeched to a halt, the too-late warning – look out! – the sickening crunch of metal hitting spokes…
Opening her eyes, Maggie glanced again at the photo, and then gently rested it on withered thighs too long imprisoned by a wheel chair.
“Mags, you okay?” asked Jack, watching her.
What else was there to do?
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to a challenge issued by Naomi Harvey to write a story or article based on the photograph at the top of this page. Naomi’s challenge was issued on Chris Musgrave’s blog as well as Naomi’s.
Thanks for the inspiration, Naomi. 🙂