Not a single tree but an entire landscape streams by at such speed outside the window of an evening train that the eye cannot grab but the whole as one. May is in reveries. Her thoughts drift, are blurred and a dime for her thoughts would be a dime lost. Yet almost a feeling or the shadow of one is present, discreet; a dream forgotten which in stealth guides a morning’s moods, a penchant for emotion or for a depth of soul. Somewhere adrift between layers of vagueries a narrative takes form. It is a man, black in his overalls, holding a great hammer of a weight untold by his walk for he is strong as two or three. He nears the rails as a whistle of steam is cast periodically in the distance to reverberate through the surrounding hills of trees and announce the arrival of the train. The metal rattles as both giants approach to meet at the rails. With a mighty sweep and strike, the hammer falls on the offset head of a loose and rusty rail spike. The rattle ceases. The rail falls silent. The wind rustles the leaves left over by last year’s autumn and it is a sound made of peace. Satisfied the man walks away to the music restored of train and trees, whistle and leaves. Through the window, he is but a spot, and May does not see him as she passes, for was he even there? She yawns in the stuffy air of her compartment and glances absently at her watch without even registering the position of the hands. What haste does one need to make when travelling towards the unknown?
This is official business. Ma stands at the end of the road that leads to the station staring sternly at the little ticking hands on her wrist. She does not often require a watch and, worn as such, it ornaments her wrist poorly: swallowed as a tree would a fence over time. She thinks of her current engagement with very little emotion. A young man stands behind her in the woods, softly so as not to be heard. She speaks out to him in a soft commanding voice, a voice harshened by love.
Yes Ma?, disappointed.
Make yourself useful and fetch the girl’s bags and bring them to her house once we have left the station. She pauses to let her last words soak in emphasis. Charley?
Once we have left the station…, says he in a poor impersonation effort, yes I understand. But is it true Ma?, he swallows for courage. What they say about her…
What?, her tone is dry now. He sinks back into the trees. The sun is low, it has sunk past the horizon of the low hills surrounding the village, when she looks back she can barely distinguish her son from the bushes and branches. Someone has been talking, she whispers half in thought. She sighs to herself in a brief moment of quiet disbelief, then she is on her way. The cruel irony of her present situation, that the task fell to her, or rather befell her, to welcome the newcomer, does not escape her in the least. The village does not act but deliberately, she reminds herself. And it is with a hard-eye for sideways glances that she walks the winding road through the village as the houses begin to glow; that she walks the familiar road in the fading darkness, all the way to the station.
It comes as no surprise to May that no one disembarks but her. The remoteness of her surroundings strikes her instantly, as though she had not just seen the vastness of nature defile uninterrupted by cities or even stations. She anchors her eyes on the single light illuminating the modest-if-anything-at-all station and the stout woman walking unhurriedly towards her. It struck her, yes, but in many ways, not unpleasantly. She had yearned for an occasion such as this, and in the moment between the swift departure of the train and the arrival of the one-woman welcome party, she regroups herself into the right frame of mind.
Gooelcomevening, they speak at once, as one. A short weighty silence ensues. If only to be sure it does not happen anew. Time passes and, to be sure, the more time passes the more it is likely that it will happen again. Ma looks away towards the tail lights of the train fading into the dusk. She draws a deep serving of the evening air. May glances down at her luggage, as one would at a friend seeking a reassurance in their presence against an intimidating and unfamiliar new world.
Good Evening, she speaks.
Ma flattens her dress, turns slowly towards her guest, and repeats her ‘Welcome’. The word has lost some of its previous warmth but all present refrain from noticing. If you would kindly follow me, she adds, curt but nothing more. With an ever slight bow, she turns on her heels.
You may leave those.
..things. Ma has already begun to walk. Very well, says May to the wind as she follows along.
A brisk breeze casts a few stones at her shoes and bristles her short hair. She reaches to settle her hat presently threatening to take flight. Her eyebrows rise, an appropriate reaction, she thinks, to the moderate drama of this short event, although she does at times question the need for such dainty rules in the game of things. There is a discreet rustle in the branches and leaves behind them, as the few pieces of luggage are picked up by a silhouette, unnoticed. Had he wished it so, he could as well not have made a sound.
How far is the village, as May slides alongside her guide, the name of which, it dawns on her, she did not yet know. I’m May. Suddenly, she is met with a look, a look almost devoid of expression. In that look’s books, May could tell she fell a few steps short of endearment.
Yes, May, I know. You may call me Ma. A patient smile raises Ma’s cheeks into her eyes. This is the village, dear.
Ma.., she whispers to herself as she peers around in vague inquiring bewilderment at the forest surrounding them. The mild condescension bounces off her, perceived yet unfelt, and lands in the dirt between them, and it is left behind. Aaah, she whispers airily as a few houses scattered generously apart manifest themselves as though conjured from her closer inspection. Their warm incandescence cast through their windows, into the dark of the woods. The village, she says again, trying her hand at an intonation game she believed was taking place.
There is no one to be seen, no one about. The light of the now long-set sun withers green and black (shades of green and black) in the horizon. May’s wondering eyes wander back to this woman, Ma, and are yet again welcomed by a pursed-lips-and-squinty-eyed smile.
Wow, thinks May without a sound, this woman is a professional. Always only slightly short of being short. Dispassionately empathetic. Very well practised in the art of succeeding at this sort of happenings. There’s a certain respect in May’s inner-voice as she thinks of Ma, of the kind that invites deference yet promotes a certain distance from its recipient.
The earth road seems endless in the dark. Walking into the unknown. May’s footsteps fall somewhat heavily as she cannot seem to properly gauge how low the ground is underfoot. Her eyes are blindly affixed with a strained concentration to the road, when a glimmer catches her attention. Her back straightens, she looks up, and as though awakening from a dream, is unsure of the legitimacy of that which she beholds. Ahead a lantern swivels, floating seemingly unaffixed in the night. An odd feeling begins to arise in her. The light, it spoke to her of home, of the home she had sought and never found, a place to lay down her burden and start anew, and despite the strangest of circumstances, she now knew this to be the place. A feeling to which, in this cold lonely place, she wholly relinquishes. Utterly dazed, she hovers, drawn forth drowning in its alluring warmth. Her raison d’être in these woods swiftly abandons her. She thinks not of where her feet land, and much less of Ma who has vanished, merging with the circumambient sombre blur. May’s hands venture shakingly forward. With some reserve in enthusiasm for the surrealism of it all, she catches it mid-flight, snatching it from the void, and holds it up with surprised satisfaction. The glow of the lantern instantly broadens from her touch to reveal, to her right, a rough path through the woods.
May follows it with her eyes. Then takes a few steps. Stops. Her world is a small bubble of light and again she brings it forward a few steps, lantern brandished at arm’s length against the invading darkness. A few uncertain steps farther into her journey, she notices the air between the trees becoming gradually alit with the distant presence of a house. See?, she says aloud addressing her own doubts. The built-up tension in her shoulders exits her body with a sigh. She lowers the lantern and it swings freely by her side. As she sobers and remembers the purpose of her travels, her thoughts shortly graze the subject of Ma, and of her most apparent absence, before they promptly return back into the mysterious world of the house so far withdrawn into its woods. She follows the remainder of the path, navigating its unkempt tiles made of what she can only fathom is volcanic rock for how vitreous it feels underfoot, for how it darkly mirrors the lantern’s glow. As May nears the house, her house, all lights conjoin to cast an almost daylight glow, so outer-worldly in the surrounding obscurity. There now, this must be the place, speaking aloud, fully awed and feeling alone. How can a house invite itself upon you in such a way?
The house seems homely, she thinks, if a little over-sized. Resolute to bring this oddest of days to an end, she walks the last few steps towards the house and in doing so catches the comforting sight of her luggage sitting near the door in a litter of leaves. She climbs the first, second and third steps of the porch, and somewhere in between the three is born a thought for her keylessness. Surely someone had thought of this detail. The screen door opens with a slight squeak but somehow she knows the outcome before it comes to life. The main door holds fast. Her head falls in defeat. That’ll teach me to leave my host behind, she thinks as she peers behind her to ascertain that she is indeed alone. As far as she can see down the path towards the main way, there is no one in sight.
With very little thought dedicated to the matter, she found that she held no quarrel with the current state of things. In fact she welcomed a night outdoors in the fresh bouquet of scents and sounds of the countryside. And a few layers drawn from her luggage should do the trick for a sufficiently comfortable night of sleep. Her eyes meet the swinging bench on the porch with tired relief. Its flowery cushions are inviting, and besides, exhausted as she is from a day of travels, she wouldn’t even disdain a bed of rocks. As the screen door swiftly meets its frame behind her, all the lights, even that of her faithful lantern, completely vanish. Oh, I see now, she proclaims aloud, crouching to her knees, plunging a hand blindly into the dark in search of her large suitcase. She dresses methodically with a quiet smile of disbelief and little attention accorded to the orientation of her clothes and settles on her flowery bed of beige and green and red.
While there isn’t a sound, not a cricket to be heard, there is a rustle nearby in the woods that doesn’t come from a sudden rise in wind. May’s thoughts linger in sweet reveries of what the future might hold after an odd yet, she thinks, not quite inauspicious start. She yawns. A village hidden its woods. How does one live in a village hidden in its woods? How she had found such a place or maybe rather how it had found her, her sleepy mind now fails to surmise. And so, ever gradually, she follows the path laid by her mind, ever slowly deeper and deeper and ultimately into sleep.
A rustle again.
Patiently he shivers awaiting his moment. The night is cold but the relief he wishes to bring is not his own. The blanket sits neatly folded against his trembling arm. Standing still, his siege is a quiet one, like a wooden horse awaiting the sleep of a village. He chooses the right moment, then creeps out of the woods, walks light footed to the path, to the steps, careful and timely in his weight shift, wary of the wood lest it winces. The cover lands softly at her feet and unfolds like a cloud across the sky, almost affectionately and she does not shift, she does not wake, simply her posture, tense against the cold, relaxes. Satisfied by the goodness within him, by the power that he holds to relieve the pain of others, he remains at her side, perhaps a little longer than decency would dictate, but who indeed dictates but who is present. He steps away. A rustle in the branches and goodnight.
An early morning sun peers sideways through the trees to unveil singing birds in their play of joy and excitement at the endless opportunities of a new day. May wrestles with her bed. She has awakened a little from her world to the one awakening in song around her, to the humidity, the light of day. I’m still sleeping, I’m still asleep, she thinks but cannot persuade herself back, away from the porch. She sits back and lifts her tuque from her eyes with a yawn. The bench swings annoyingly under her shifting weight. Her tongue rummages around the roof of her mouth then finds the front of her teeth. She yawns again. What a great night sleep. Brushing aside the blanket she becomes aware of its presence for the first time. She studies the frontyard of the house inquisitively unsure, then returns to examine the grey simple wool blanket with an uneasy gratefulness. The when equally as puzzling as the who. The cold begins to settle within her. In the next moment she is up, motioning her way into warmth. While brushing her teeth she tests the door knob. Still locked.
She ventures down the steps to the edge of the trees to spit a white minty foam into the bushes. Half expecting a visit of some kind, she peers down the path towards the main way. A post is there in the foggy distance, black, its hook supporting a lantern. The lantern. Curious indeed, she thinks not altogether unpleased by her detective work. Pivoting to ascertain its self-sameness, she withholds the house for the first time in the light of day. Though still homely it seems a little less oversized without its windows ablaze. She found she thought kindly towards it, which she thought immediately a weird thought to have about a house. Nevertheless.
Pocketing her toothbrush she takes a stroll down the side of the house. A low wall of vines and brush and thistle has grown so thickly, she is intercepted before she can get a real look at the rear of the house. The backyard is a mess of all sorts of devilry growing intertwined, some plants she knows to be edible, others are unknown to her, although downright poisonous by the looks of them. A garden once grew here. Left to its own device for too long, and still May could discern some organization in the tangled disarray. She would see to it. Her own garden. Her own garden! The thought enthralls her. Walking back, she envisions all sorts of yields as colourful as succulent, squashes and flowers, soups and salads, and conserves lining her kitchen shelves, and somewhere in between onions and beets, her foot lodges itself between two upset tile sending her into a tumble. She catches herself though, and just in time to see her toothbrush sailing through the air and landing face first into the dirt. Oh ho hO, she laughs angrily, before anything, those tiles will get worked.
Still operating under the belief that someone would come to… instruct her?, she kneels down into the cold ground and weaves her hand around the base of a large dandelion that was upsetting one of the tiles and with calculated strength she unearths it. There had been mention of work, hard work, and tasks and responsibilities. She would need instructions, yes, and also a key. She shakes the soil out of the roots and sends it flying into the woods. Greedy weeds, she thinks as she unearths a few more, with all the space in the world, you wish to push your way from under a slab of hard rock.
Bouts of farming had here and there enriched May’s uncertain journey in life. Farm work was a home, a place to drown out doubts and troubles with sheer exhaustion and easy conversations, a place to drive your roots into the soft fertile soil of mother nature, to lay your head on her shoulder and let your worries soak the earth. An old man she used to work with would tell her how he imagined the weeds to be bad thoughts or bad habits that he tried to, well, weed out. My, how he raged at those that would give way without their roots. May shakes her head as she moves to the next tile, and a smile parts her lips. He would dig and dig, with a mouthful of harsh names, sometimes even the names of a person he visualized to be the weed, and this, until he would root out every last bit of it. Of course, there were always casualties amongst the surrounding plants which the weeding was meant to help grow, but then again, for him as for her, only a small part of farming was about the yields. At the end of a day he would light a cigarette and say with a sly look on his dirty face: ‘However hard you pull on a weed you can never weed out of yourself the desire to pull hard on a weed’. She had always had a secret love for his sweet contradictions. He was a beautiful man, despite all his devils.
For her part, she never could help but be baffled at how crops mirrored perfectly the world, unbalanced to the point of promoting nothing but the endless thriving of the corrupt. The incessant victories of the petty, of the devious and ill-natured over the useful, the beautiful, the vulnerable. And maybe it explains why she finds herself here now, in the middle of the woods alone, talking to plants rather than humans.
The morning’s battle was a merciless one, and if success is measured by its duration, then it can barely be said that she came out ahead. She did however derive a certain dash of pride in having correctly identified the tiles, which seem indeed to be made of cuts of obsidian, as dark as the space between the stars and as smooth as glass.
Having made it to the black post where the lantern hangs, she takes a few steps more and glances down the dirt road. It had felt like an endless walk the night before. Now May is almost certain she can make out the outline of the station in the distance. Behind her the road rounds a corner and disappears to the right, or, were she to face it and not just turn her head, to the left. Much time has passed since the beginning of her work on the tiled path and as the noon sun peaks above, her stomach begins to grunt at her in earnest. So she sets about down the road.
I just can’t see what it is that gets people so riled up, says the man with his hat folded in his hands.
Well?, says the shopkeeper behind her counter.
I’m just saying, a visitor comes to the village and suddenly everyone takes of change and…
The bell dingles. May peeks at the door as she holds it open for herself. A half-thought crosses her mind: thank god I’ve not lost the ability to open all doors..! The door slams behind her with a hard blink of everyone’s eyes. Both the man and the woman look on in silence, as though at nothing at all. May embarrassed, looks back at the door and then tries to fill the silence with words. Her words jumble.
I’m sorry, she says about the door, I have bad luck with doors lately, she pauses, the whole place is one giant forest, would never have found the place if it weren’t for the wind chimes outside the shop’s door, sorry about the… door. May stops. She has spoken too much. The effects of isolation are never as easily perceived as when one encounters other people. The man and woman carry on in a hushed voice.
Anyway, hum, a bags of rice and a stick of salted butter and have you any traditional mustard?
Of course. Of course, says she as though the man was confiding in her.
May stands her ground, afraid of disturbing them further. Her eyes travel around the shop, the grid of square shelves behind the counter, the sliding ladder, the two small quaint tables for two, their neatly white tablecloth with laced edges, every thing inside the small shop is white with dark varnished wood trims. Her eyes return and hurtle into the gentleman who now stands in front of her, awaiting to exit through the door she is blocking. Her eyes open wide in surprise, oh my oh my, she thinks, and in one long motion she steps aside, clear of the door.
The man steps out. The door does not slam. The bell dingles. She looks at the door, reproachful, and when she looks back at the counter, the shopkeeper is gone. May walks over and absently starts to drum her fingers on the counter. Her fingers spread and feel across the worn grain, brushed by countless transactions and exchange of goods. In fact, every single tool, every single piece of furniture in the shop wears the markings of a long purposeful life. Just as May begins to lean over the counter to peer through the doorway to the left, she is caught by the women’s return. She stands straight and waits. As it were, both stand silently facing each other. The woman wears an apron. Clothes of pastel colours, tasteful lace. With small plump hands and soft skin. Her faces wears many lines, not from aging though, the woman couldn’t be more than ten years older than May, but rather from much emotion, though whether of grief or joy, May could not tell. She is very beautiful, thinks May, with homely features.
You must be hungry, the woman suggests with a caring smile. She signals for May to wait a second with an index finger pointing at the sky. Agile with the muscle memory of habit, she puts together a few things in two small plates, pushes them over the counter, and motions for May to take place at one of the tables. As she does so, the kettle begins to whistle and the woman steps through the doorway and disappears again. She thinks of how she greatly prefers being ordered around in this fashion then in Ma’s. She takes a modest bite of a croissant letting politeness overshadow her hunger. The taste and texture take the better of her though and in the few seconds before the kindly woman’s return, she has wolfed the entire pastry and parts of a scone. In a moment of rapid self-consciousness, she notices her filthy fingers holding the cream coloured scone, her muddy boots and their imprint all the way to the door. She freezes as she receives a cup of tea with two small sugar cubes on the side and a spoon. With her eyes only, she follows the woman as she walks to the counter, leans her back against it and folds her plump arms to better engage in shop talk.
You must be our newest, Ma.
May ‘mam, she politely corrects her putting the scone down to hide her untidy hands between her legs.
Hmm?, says Mary unaware of her slip. Right: May. My name is Mary, it is a pleasure to meet you.
May nods and takes a moment.
Where is everyone?, she asks. I waited but no one came, and when I headed down the road I saw nothing but a dog. It ran away from me. No houses, no people. I could never have found your shop were it not for the wind chimes which I heard from the road. She catches a breath and takes a sip of tea which is also quite delicious. Swallowing she adds, and my door is locked.
Ah yes, surprised Ma didn’t mention that.
Mmm, she answers absently and nods slowly as to an old truth. Then she adds, well, have you done something about it?
About it? Mary walks around the counter and moves the ladder singling out a few items from the shelves. May takes a deep bite of scone and continues: I’ve tried to reach the back door this morning, it’s fiercely overgrown.
In fact the entire place needs a good weeding. I’ve made good use of my time this morning and rearranged the tiles of the path to the house.
Ah, Mary interjects, that will do nicely. Unsure of whether Mary meant this in response to her last words or at the quarter wheel of cheese she extracted from below the counter, May proceeds to stay silent and finishes up her breakfast. Mary wraps the items she collected, in a small box which she ribbons with a strand of burgundy lace. May watches on, admiring the grace and skill in Mary’s work. There’s a woman who embraces the meaning of her life and makes art of her work, she thinks.
Mary deposits the box on the table. Your sweater is inside out hun.
Mmm? Oh. May begins to do something about it but then abandons the process. Yeah, she says with the shrug of her shoulders.
May, there are things you will have to work out by yourself.
Okay, May answers caught off guard by the tone. She puts down her teacup and glances up at Mary, who wears now a weary expression.
But there are two things I will say. First, there is an old tradition in the village which warns that before a house is entered for the first time, a deep secret should be whispered inside a small crevice in the ancient wood of the front door. Any crevice will do, but the secret must be one close to the heart, untold. Mary speaks of this with such crystal sincerity that May’s eyes begin to water as she acquiesces. Second, May, do not open that door unless you truly wish to follow through. There is a reason few people are seen meandering about the village. A house never goes lightly on its keeper. It has demands, tasks, the first of which is to relinquish a piece of your heart. These last words she speaks with a trembling in her voice. May is shaken by the intensity of Mary’s words of advice. A woman that only moments before she had not known. Mary’s sullen expression smooths back into a smiling kindness, and once more May lost as to which comes to her more naturally.
Walking back from the shop, May barely can find her way to her own house. Disoriented by her thoughts, it is the lantern which at last saves her. She walks the obsidian pathway and sits to ponder a while on the front steps of the house. Her house. The words are now heavy with a daunting meaning. A house never goes lightly on its keeper, she repeats to herself. She then rises and takes a step back from the house, to glance at it lest it should reveal some hidden knowledge she did not yet possess. Alas, it is a house. Nothing more. She lays down in the earth and leaves, and sighs at the deep blue sky. A secret. Why did it have to come to this? She had known from the moment the words left Mary’s mouth which one it would be, for there was only one. It had come, as it always had, searing like a branding iron, blinding white like the lights of a van in the lonesome dark, only this time, she closes her eyes and surrenders to it. When the memory comes, she is not wholly of this earth any longer. She thinks of it. Formulates it into words and walks towards the front door. Her fingers search the door for a weakness in the old wood. A crevice. Then, leaning her head against the door, she whispers her words into it. Empties her burden into the tiny crevice with a few silent tears gliding down her cheeks as the words depart on their journey. For a moment she stands trembling and vulnerable before the silent bearer of the last secret truth she possesses. She slips off her shoes, one by one, and leaves them by the door. She then picks up Mary’s box, then opens the door and walks in.
May gently closes the door behind her. The silence is slightly oppressive, she takes a few tentative steps forward, on tip toe, as though trespassing in someone else’s home. She represses the urge of speaking: hello? The many windows please her, the worn maple floor is warm where the sun floods in. The kitchen is easily the biggest room in the house, with an island lined by high stools at its centre which serves as the sole table. She deposit Mary’s box on it, and walks over to the rear door. She can barely see through its window for how high the vines rise. The backyard is vast and wildly overgrown though the variety of its plants is astonishing. All strangling each other for a peek at the sun. She tries the door handle. It does not yield, but for the time being, it does not matter. When the time comes, she can attack the backyard by the side of the house. She walks by the stairs and into the living room. The few pieces of furniture match the flowery pattern of the swinging bench on the porch though more modest in vibrancy. The entire room is oriented towards the fireplace. She could not think of a more inviting living space and already looks forward at evenings spent in the company of a crackling fire. Before heading upstairs, she could not help but try opening a smaller door next to the staircase. If feelings meant anything in the matter, she felt she would certainly be able to open this door. It spoke to her, as the lantern had the night before, only this time it spoke of melodious warmth. A feeling quite unlike any she had felt before. To May’s disappointment however, the door does not yield. Climbing up the stairs, she couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed at its reluctance to open. As to what awaited upstairs, she didn’t expect much more than a hallway of steadfast doors, yet what she finds is far stranger than what she could have ever imagined. All doors are locked of course, all but one, which stands slightly ajar letting a stream of light spill into the hall. As unruly as the garden behind the house, the room she steps into is a children’s room. Disorderly as though kids had been left to their own kid selves for who knows how long. The colours are lively and a few drawings are pinned to the walls. The shelves are of course empty, as every puzzle, every book, every toy is spattered, splattered and thrown across the room. The previous owners of the house must have been a family, thinks May, although it did strike her as odd how things had been left. Almost as though they had left in a hurry. May picks up a few books and flips through them before putting them away on the shelf. The title and images are bizarre to say the least, most curious where those of a certain ‘Goodnight’ series of which, May realizes, there are quite a few. With titles such as ‘The Hunters After Dark’ and ‘Recess’ that donned cover drawings of dead birds and what seemed like phone booths filled with snakes. What sort of stories did parents read to their children nowadays?
The sun is about to set when May concludes her work tidying the mess upstairs. Being one of the few rooms available to her, she figured she might as well make it presentable. In the kitchen, she opens Mary’s box. Its insides hold the quarter wheel of cheese, some salted crackers and what looks like a blackberry chocolate mousse. Rummaging in the cupboards she finds much cuisine apparatus, a lot of which she had heard of but never thought to use before. A mandolin, a pressure-cooker, a crock-pot and a seemingly endless supply of glassware, containers and bottles of all sizes; there was an incredible collection of knives, no wine glasses and very little cutlery and dishes. Through her searches, she does not encounter any children’s plastic dishes cups, bowls, utensils. She finds nothing in the fridge for, she discovers, there is none, nor is there a space for one. What she does find is some cereal and some long conservation milk.
May eats the mousse first because, well, why wouldn’t you, she thinks. My house, my rules!, this she says aloud. Darkness settles outside, the woods disappear in the background. Mostly what she sees is a reflection of herself eating chocolate, dark chocolate, she corrects herself, blackberry mousse. She had always enjoyed catching her own reflection in windows or mirrors, contrarily to what society thought of marvelling at oneself in the mirror, May openly welcomed the opportunity to surprise oneself in action, to see what others see and judge what others judge. Thus, shamelessly gleaning at herself, she wonders when the lights inside the house had turned on. She moves on to the cheese and crackers. A true delight of textures which she savours swivelling in playful enjoyment on one of the high stools. In guise of desert, May makes herself a small bowl of lukewarm cereal. Every mouthful is an orchestration on the theme of crunch and slurp. A sorely needed music against the intense silence of the house. Thus enjoying herself, she barely hears when the first giggle dives into the kitchen like a small pebbles into what May thought to be a lonesome lake. Mouth full, she stops breathing to make sure that she is indeed insane, that there were no noises inside the house except those constructed by her overly imaginative mind. She starts munching anew, but again the giggles come from above, as clear as a whistling bell. May swallows roughly the half-chewed cereal in her mouth and makes her way to the bottom of the stairs bowl in hand. This time she cannot repress a hesitant: hello? To which the answer from above is the shuffle of many feet and a few hushing sounds. May can’t believe her ears. She climbs the stairs slowly without a blink. When she pushes the bedroom door open, she is ready to find pretty much anything. And surely enough, a young girl and a young boy were in bed, the blanket drawn tightly up to their necks, pretending to snore, and with their eyes more than half-opened to see if their trickery succeeded in duping May. May, awestruck, places her bowl on a nearby shelf without breaking eye contact. The look on her face must have been quite the trophy judging by the two wide poorly dissimulated grins on the children’s faces. May finally catches up to herself. She steps closer the bed. The kids try mightily, but a few giggles escape like bubbles from their mouths. An ardent tenderness thaws May’s heart and she sits on the corner of the bed next to the little boy. Their little eyes open a little wider to see what May is up to.
What’s your name, says the little girl in a tiny voice. May smiles uncontrollably.
May. My name is May. The two little rascals suddenly awaken in a outburst of energy, laughing, jumping on the bed, singing:
Aunty May, aunty May! May settles seamlessly into her role.
Settle down, she says, settle down now. It is a little late to be jumping and screaming, don’t you think? Both look at her obediently apologetic, still smiling wide.
Aunty May, will you read us a story?, asks the little boy.
It depends, is her answer.
Depends? On what?, both speak as one.
What are your names?
Sally! Robin!, answered the children, the words jumping out of their mouths like frogs.
What story would you like me to read?
Robin and Sally look at each other excitedly and out from under the cover comes one of the odd books may had put away: The Hunters After Dark. May opens the book at their request and begins to read the story to them.
The hunters after dark, begins May a little reluctant. Once there were houses. The drawing here depicted a few houses not unlike her own, lost in the woods, in the dark. She turns the page. To those houses came visitors from far and wide. Each found their own house. Crude drawings of the visitors in old fashion clothing wearing beards and braids. Theirs was a simple life. In the evening they would step out of their house into the cool cold night with invisible guns, hunt and kill their prey with them, and would come home for supper. May gasped at the visitors as they held the gun-shaped air aimed at small game. They would kill the animals and cook them and also eat them and would be full. Goodnight.
May closes the book with a shudder. Lost for words, she looks over at the children who are both sprawled out across the bed, sleeping. She draws the blanket over them, shuts the light, does not quite shut the door, and heads downstairs prey to a gigantic yawn which stretches out as far as the couch in the living room. May falls asleep. Goodnight.