From the Desk of an Editor;
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. In this issue we dive into everyday life being not so everyday.
In news our chief editor took a nasty spill and bruised his leg up while renovating the new office. He is up and around now. Daniel's leg is just a little more colorful than it was before.
Otherwise not much news here. We are still working towards catching up on our back log. We will be sure to keep you posted for when we are accepting submissions again.
The Good Samaritan
By Miriam Foley
As soon as you talk to the police you get scared, don’t you. The way they call you by your surname and look all serious and ask you questions from across the table and record everything you say. You become aware of yourself. That it’s all going down on record and there’s no way back. And you know that if you change your story, they’ll have you down as a liar.
They gave me a cup of tea, told me I could have a lawyer if I wanted one. Called me by my surname.
I said, ‘call me Ian.’
'Okay, Ian, want a lawyer?’
I said no. Felt bad enough they were working on Christmas Day. Didn’t want to make someone else have to.
Anyway, it all started this morning when I was on my way to work. I was down to open the shop so it was still fairly dark and the road and cars were shiny with frost. I was thinking that it was all for nothing; no-one was going to buy anything at this time of the morning on Christmas Day, but then I remembered that last year one bloke came in for gravy granules, and another came for wrapping paper before the kids woke up, even though we don’t sell wrapping paper.
I am down to work every Christmas Day; part of my contract and all that. You can imagine how dull that is. Dull as dishwater. But it's the company policy to open three hundred and sixty five days a year so what can you do, you can't tell everyone that and then close on one day of the year can you? That would ruin everything.
So that’s why I was up so early this morning and walking down Melrose Avenue until the end when I took a left, crossed the roundabout and went over the bridge.
Only today there was a bloke standing on the ledge of the bridge, with no shoes on. He was crying and rubbing his face, putting his hands through his hair over and over. So I said, ‘You alright mate?’
He jumped like the kids when I catch them with a can of coke down their trousers and I thought he’d only go and fall off the edge. ‘Do I look alright?’he said.
We have a cocky one here, I thought. Have to be careful how I deal with this one. ‘Well I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. Because maybe you’re not.’
He wiped his nose, which I was pretty pleased about because he had loads of snot coming out of it. And the snot went onto his sleeve and made it shine like a snail’s trail that you find on leaves in the garden early in the morning when you’re a kid.
His jumper was black, a v-neck I think, and he had a shirt on underneath open at the collar. He looked pretty smart; like he was on his way to work too. His eyes were all red and watery and he had them opened really wide which made me think of a story I heard once about a man’s eye actually popping out because the muscles were fucked and he had to get it pushed back in again. His face looked old, maybe older than usual. Like when you’ve been up all night partying and you look in the mirror when you go to the loo and you look loads older. I’d put him at an old-looking thirty five. Yeah, about ten years older than me.
I remembered the bottle of water that’s always in my bag. I didn’t know how long it had been there but I thought he might be thirsty. People in those kinds of situations usually are. ‘Do you want some water?’ I asked him.
‘Yes please.’ He said, breathing in through his nose so all the snot went back up. Then he swallowed, which made me shiver a little and I wrinkled my nose but as soon as I wrinkled it I unwrinkled it. I didn’t want to push him.
I stepped forward, not too close, and reached my arm out until he could take the water.
He gulped it down so fast that I could see his adam’s apple bob up and down, up and down, and some water dribbled down his chin from the side of his mouth.
‘Look mate,’ I said, ‘why don’t you come down from there. You’re making me nervous.’ And he was too. Making me nervous. It was like I’d drunk loads of Red Bull and couldn’t stay still. Unnerving is what you might call it. Unnerving indeed.
‘No,’ he shook his head slowly, then fired the empty bottle high into the air.
I leaned over the bridge and watched it drop until it hit the ground and got crunched flat by a car tyre. That was the other thing making me nervous: the cars whizzing below. Zoom! Zoom! It was like Formula bloody One down there. ‘Oi!’ I shouted, ’I wanted that back thank-you-very-much. I’ve had that bottle for months now. I only use that one.’
‘Well buy a new one!’ His voice went croaky when he shouted.
‘Fine.’ I said. ‘I will. But I’ll have you know, I only drink from that one to do my bit for the planet. We’re all buying stuff every day that comes in plastic and we throw it out and it ends up in a big pile of shit in Africa where poor kids play.’
He peered over the edge and I thought he was going to take a leap.
‘Don’t do it!’ I yelled.
‘I’m looking at your bottle. I wasn’t thinking.’
‘Yeah, no-one ever is.’
‘You’re right. No-one ever thinks about what’s coming. It’s all about today. Plastic. Toys, cars, credit cards.’ He sobbed and his shoulders shook.
I didn’t think he’d take it so much to heart. So to make him feel better I shrugged and told him not to worry. That I still put my fruit in those plastic bags at the supermarket because there’s no way to keep four oranges together otherwise, and I like oranges. I thought maybe I should try and help him. I’ve never been one to help others, like one of those Samaritans or something. That whole thing about getting help doesn’t really do it for me to be honest. I just keep to myself. Go to work, do my job, keep my head down. Smoke a bit, drink a bit. Hell, it’s Christmas, I thought. ‘So mate, what’s up?’
‘You don’t want to know.’
I looked around and was surprised there wasn’t a load of people crowded around us, like in films. ‘You’re right,’ I said, ‘I don’t.’ And I turned to walk away.
‘Wait!’ he said in a shrill voice that sounded like a girl’s. ‘Don’t go.’
I tutted. I didn’t mean to but I was just getting a bit fed up. ‘Alright then. So, what is so bad that you’re standing on the bridge looking like you’re going to jump?’
He cried into his hands. ‘It’s just so bad,’ he balled, ‘my life isn’t worth living.’
I decided to get some biscuits out of my bag because I hadn’t had breakfast and I was getting hungry so I opened the packet and took one. I didn’t offer him one because I didn’t want to disturb his flow, if you get what I mean.
‘I lost my job six months ago and I’ve got no money.’
‘Well that doesn’t sound too bad -’
‘And I’ve been leaving home every day and telling my wife I’m going to work. And I’ve remortgaged the house twice to get money to put into the bank every month and now they say the house belongs to them when we bought that house as a home for our family and I plastered the walls myself and painted it top to bottom and put a new garden in.’ He stopped to breathe. ‘And we have nowhere to go, and there’s no way out. The best thing I could do with my life right now is end it.’
‘You have kids?’
He shook his head. ‘She’s seven months pregnant. And I have nothing to give her. But if I die she’ll get insurance and they’ll give her the house back. What will she have with me? They’ll take everything we own. We’ll be out on the street with a new baby!’ He turned to me, waiting.
Man. What can you say to someone like that? I was like, shit, man, I wish I'd just kept walking. Who needs this shit at six in the morning when they're on the way to work and it's Christmas day and they have nowhere to be and no-one to be with? I mean, it's not exactly what I needed if you know what I mean. And I was already late for work and I was the one opening the shop so it wouldn't be open even though I was only opening it for some dick who’s forgotten to buy wrapping paper and gravy. ‘Are you sure she’ll get the money?’ I asked him.
'If I die, yeah. People are already doing it.’
‘Yeah?’ I thought about it. Then I thought I should know his name, so that if he did jump I could just tell the police who it was, instead of everyone saying someone unnamed had jumped from the bridge. I mean, that would make everyone worry wouldn't it? Or maybe if they were cosy with all their loved ones around them by a nice coal fire they would count everyone present in their head, happy that no-one was missing.
Like when you watch the news and see dead people and feel sad for a second, but then a film comes on and you forget all about it. That's the great thing about films. They take your mind off everything. 'What's your name?' I asked. Maybe it would be nice to help someone for a change.
'Steve, right. I'm Ian.'
‘Hi. And you’re sure she’ll get money?’
‘Yeah. But it can’t be suicide. Then she’d get nothing.’
Sweat broke out on my forehead. ‘You sure you don’t want to come down from there?’
‘Yes.’ His voice was calm.
‘Want to come with me to the shop where I work and buy me a bottle of water?’
‘Look, Steve, I’m trying to help you here.’
He looked at me with his eyes bulging wide and his hairs standing up on his head.
‘You’re a good guy.’ He smiled weakly, ‘Do you have a family?’
‘Nah, man. No family, just me.’
'Well mate, when you do, you’ll realize that you’ll do whatever it takes to look after them.’
‘Yeah,’ His tired, streaming eyes held mine.
So that’s it. Steve loved enough to give his life for them. It’s like something out of a film. I can’t get my head around it. But that’s it. That’s the story.
I can’t tell them that though, because that means he’ll have died for nothing.
So I ask the policeman if I can have another cup of tea.
I don’t even like tea, but I figure I could use another couple of minutes to think up some way out for both of us.
About the Author;Miriam Foley is a graduate of English Literature. She is currently working on her first novel and a collection of short stories. She works as Lifestyle Editor for an online publication, and has recently published a piece of flash fiction and her first short story.
The Dreamer's Reward
By Clarissa Call
Lucy stood among the firs, her starry eyes raised to the peak of her house. There it was, the same as it had always been, a haven of beauty and peace. How she loved to gaze upon it. She forgot now her mother's petulance and the rude roguishness of her older brothers.
She never tired of gazing at the house-never would in a thousand years. It was everything a house should be, down to its creeper-trailed side porch and white picket fence. Her favorite part of it was the small tower room placed at the top in the very center, with windows in all four directions. How she longed to climb up to it and look down on the surrounding country like a glad queen looking upon her thriving realm.
Her house was sky blue, with deep purple trim and white lacework under the eaves like the icing on a gingerbread house. The first two stories were perfectly symmetrical and aligned, their windows reflecting the golden sunset glow. Around the corner of them was a straight, peaked wall, with the side porch and more rooms extending from it. Lucy could see nothing on the inside, as all was veiled by lacy curtains; all except the tower room, whose curtains covered only the topmost sections of the window-panes. Lucy looked speculatively up at a near-by beech tree. If she climbed up to its highest branches, would she see into the room...
No. Only with Henry would she try scaling the tree in a full-skirted dress. But that is getting ahead of the story. Henry shall be introduced later.
Oh, how she wanted the house for her home! The house she really lived in was nice enough, but rather drab, and dingy when it rained. But her house stayed the same in any weather. Surely it would remain unshaken even in a cyclone. It wasn't only that it was a beautiful piece of architecture. Lucy felt that it belonged to her, though she didn't legally own it. What were money and law to the soul, after all? Ah, but if she had money, it would be hers! She scowled, hating the sordidness of the world that could mar her dreams. Lucy had never been inside the house or seen its owner, who had kept it locked up and deserted her whole life. It wanted to be lived in and loved. No one could love it more than she, she who slipped away to its caressing solitude whenever she could. There she could forget for a while the hardships of the day--her mother's fussiness, her two brothers' jeers. “That house will never be yours,” they said, grinning maliciously at each other. “We're just poor farmers.”
No one sympathized with her passionate desire. Lucy wrapped an arm around the beech and rested her cheek against its trunk, remembering the first time she had voiced it. Her father's sister had hosted a Christmas party when Lucy was five years old. All the aunts and uncles and cousins were gathered around the table, and the host, Uncle Warren, asked everyone to state his dearest dream, whether it had come true or not. “Anyone who answers dishonestly will be put out in the street like an impudent pussy,” he joked, after which his wife kicked his ankles surreptitiously under the table. Lucy, the youngest one there, answered when her turn came, “To live in my house.” Everyone laughed, condescendingly she thought at the time, but really they laughed with amused wistfulness at the innocence and simplicity of her dream. With their prompting she went on to explain about its beauty and allure while the eating went on.
At that juncture kindly Uncle Alden leaned over from beside Lucy and whispered to her, “Never let anyone discourage your dreams. You must find out their merit or folly on your own terms.” Lucy had never forgotten those words. They bore her up when she was called a naive little country girl who hadn't seen any of the world; if she had, she was told, she would have found a thousand prettier houses than the one she so stubbornly set her heart on.
The sun had set in the velvet dusk. With a last lingering look, Lucy turned homeward. A buggy rattled up from a cross-road with Old Man Miller, owner of Miller's Store in town, driving it.
“Want a lift?” he inquired amiably.
“Thank you very much.” Lucy climbed up beside him.
“I hear you folks are hankering to sell your farm and move to the States.”
A cruel hand squeezed Lucy's heart. She looked at Old Man Miller, deathly pale. “You-you heard-”
Old Man Miller looked alarmed and distressed. “Oh, now don't be telling me you didn't know. I'm sorry, Lucy, I never-”
Lucy raised a hand. “It's alright. I'm simply surprised.”
Surprised! That was hardly the word for it. Lucy was devastated. The world had ended for her. If her family sold the farmhouse and moved, she would have no choice but to go with them. She had no money, no job, and could not possibly buy her own house. She might board in some hostile hovel, but there were none nearby and she would not--could not--live so far away from her house that she could not easily go to it when she had the chance. It was already a mile away and quite a trek over hill and through forest. There would be no more blissful hours on its lawn or doorstep, no more dreamy speculations about what lay beyond the windows and doors.
When they reached the Dunlap house Lucy stumbled into the sitting room where her mother, father, and brothers were gathered. They looked at her still form and stricken face.
“She's found out. Knew she'd make a fuss,” her father muttered to his wife. Lucy reflected how grotesque he looked, his scruffy beard greasy and full of crumbs from supper.
“Enjoy your house while you can, little sister,” intoned Burt. She could have thrown the nearby poker at him.
“Why didn't you tell me?” she demanded in a low voice
“To avoid your tantrums as long as possible,” her father grunted brusquely. “So the less of them the better for all of us."
“I do hope you'll be sensible about it, Lucy,” her mother said, looking down her sharp nose at the knitting in her lap. How many useless booties have you made by now? Lucy thought. Probably enough for all the babies in Canada.
“We might have to bind you hand and foot and carry you on our backs if you aren't,” warned Jim with a grin.
Henry would never let you. The image of his impish face in her mind bid her speak on. “I would rather starve on the doorstep of my house than leave it and go with you,” she said with trembling lips. She turned to sweep grandly up the stairs, but unfortunately stumbled on the hem of her dress, making her brothers guffaw with laughter.
Lucy got herself up to her room and dissolved in tears as she sat before her window. How cowed she was! How timid and cowed and spineless.
Due to the immense load of baking and washing and mending-along with chasing a group of rebel hens back into the yard-that her mother put her to, Lucy did not get to her house until noon three days later. She went up between the shadowing firs, up the walk and the steps, patting the heads of the two stone dogs that flanked them. They faced one another, each with a stone basket of flowers in his mouth.
“What's this?” Lucy saw at once that there was a small white envelope with a bulge on the door-mat. Her hand shot out to grasp it, then hesitated. Suppose it wasn't for her? Maybe someone was coming to tidy or do repairs, and this was the key for them to get in by. Did that mean that it would soon be inhabited?
A wild thought darted across her mind, quickening her heart. Suppose she used the key herself and took a quick look around the house? No, no, her older, sensible self said. No. I would never do that. Besides, whoever it is meant for might be suspicious at the open envelope.
She turned over the envelope. On its clean surface was written in firm script, 'Lucy'.
That was permission enough. Lucy sat on the top step and stretched her legs out, breathlessly holding the envelope to her eyes, fingertips tingling.
Inside was the key and a short note, saying merely, “It is time. I hope all is as you would wish it; a little boy named Henry has helped me to arrange it all. This is the key to the sun-room.” At the bottom was scrawled 'Mr. Fairfax'.
Lucy jumped up and darted onto the lawn. “Henry!” Her ecstatic eyes roved the surrounding firs. “Henry!” He was so near, so real. She was sure she would get a glimpse of his puckish form. But the firs only rustled in apology that they did not show what she sought. She knelt on the grass and looked dreamily upward, the note in her hand.
Henry...her girlhood companion whom she often wondered whether she had only dreamed of. Apart from Uncle Alden, he had been the only one who understood her longing for the house and not scorned it. Until she was ten years old she had spent solitary moments in the hollow where her house stood. Then Henry was suddenly there beside her as though formed from the leaves, tanned and clad all in green. It was as though they had always known each other, and thereafter they met in the hollow every day after school was over for Lucy. Henry always arrived after she did, and she could never tell where he would appear. They spent so many happy hours spinning fancies about the house and what was inside it, and climbing trees to try to peer through the windows.
There was the snow-white bird who--Henry always insisted that it was a 'who'-- alighted on the kitchen window-sill on moonlit nights to whisper words of wisdom...
The lady who swept about in trailing green skirts scattering coziness and joy; only the back of her was usually seen before she disappeared, leaving one with a longing to see her bright laughing face...
The great cat, long and lean, who curled up in dark corners and spaces because he would turn into a lion in full sunlight; with his fur that was pure yellow, he was like a great glowing ball, and at night he lighted the inhabitants of the house upstairs to bed...
The square window in the upstairs hall that changed each day to show beautiful places: cool gardens and airy meadows, seaside castles and forest cottages, instead of the yard outside...
The light green vase with its elegant swirls; it sung softly when flowers were put into it, particularly if they were red roses...
The flat wooden piper who silently piped, frisking up the stairs when no one was looking; but when he did, those in the house felt a little, indescribable pulling of the heart-string, and felt even fonder of those around them...
A dragon, ten feet tall and long, with plumage of vibrant red, gold, green, and blue, stalked about the back yard; when one went out to it, it just looked and said a thousand wonderful things with its gaze. Occasionally it could be prevailed upon to let one ride on its back, soaring above the treetops, but only at dawn when the sun's opal light washed the sky...
What pleasure and fun they had had in their mutual imaginings! Rarely did they disagree over them.
Lucy never saw Henry anywhere else and told no one about him. He was always there to cheer her after a hard day, to play and sympathize with her. He was her own lovely secret, though she herself only knew for certain that his name was Henry.
Then, after an all-too-short four years, he suddenly stopped coming to her in the hollow, and after a month she despaired of ever seeing him again. She wrote letters to him and left them on the window-sill of the sun-room in the hope that he might somehow get them. She wrote of the times they had had, of the fancies she continued to think of, and of her troubles. The letters were always gone the next time she went to the house, but she never received answers and couldn't be sure who took them.
Eleven years had passed thus, and yet Henry was as real to her as when they had trysted in the fir-shaded hollow. Lucy sought no attentions, masculine or feminine, drinking deeply the cup of solitude. But for her it was a cup of sweetness. Memories of Henry sustained her, although her belief in him was always strongest when she was at her house. She could not imagine him older than a boy. How disappointed he would be to see her, as good as a frumpy old maid. Lucy was blind to the girlhood charm that had stayed with her.
But who was this Mr. Fairfax? He must be the owner Lucy had never seen or heard of. If he was getting help from Henry, why didn't Henry simply come to her? There was no doubt that this note was referring to the Henry she had known. Suppose he had remembered everything they made up about the house and told Mr. Fairfax about it? Lucy dashed around the corner of the house and up the side porch stairs. The sun-room door opened silently after she unlocked it. A cooing greeted her. On a table by one of the cushioned wooden chairs was a large cage holding five live doves! Lucy opened a window and set them free. The birds swooped in and out, landing on the furniture and her shoulders.
“You aren't 'the bird who whispers words of wisdom', but you make fine companions anyway,” she told them.
Over the next few months Lucy accessed more of the house two rooms at a time as she kept finding new keys and notes that grew longer with each one, recounting old revels. There was no doubt that they were from Henry, somehow sent through Mr. Fairfax. They also contained hints of a future meeting, and she knew he would at last come to her after playing with the notes and keys for so long. Every time she entered the yard Lucy fancied that she heard his impish laugh.
Fear gnawed at her if she did not firmly suppress it, fear that, as preparations continued to be made for the Dunlaps' departure, she would be gone by the time Henry revealed himself. If she could see him even once she would go quietly enough. In the meantime, finally discovering the inside of herhouse was almost as good as having him back.
Her family were glad to have her out of the way and did not try to keep her from visiting the house. As far as they knew, nothing about it had changed, and she was not going to tell them that she could go inside it. Her brothers would paw through its contents for valuable items, her mother would sniff at its extravagance, and her father would guffaw, “This it? I might have known it was nothing much.” Lucy looked at them with pity in her eyes. They had no dreams or hopes beyond settling on good land and making a decent living. What a shame they could not share the delights of the house.
Lucy's longing for Henry increased each day. If he was there he would marvel at it with her. It seemed that, each time she stood among the trees by the house, Henry, her child fellow and companion, would slip from their shadows any moment. Oh, where had he gone? And how was he leaving notes and keys for her? Surely the house did not belong to him.
Perhaps he would not have grown up, but stayed young and boyish. In which case, how dismayed he would be to find that she was grown! But not changed in spirit, not wrapped in the often gray adult world. She could still swap fancies with him and climb trees, if he would only show himself.
Lucy took refuge more than ever in the house, because in its serenity she could believe for a while that it was truly hers and she would never leave it. It gave her so much joy that it bore her up through tiresome days of helping her mother and never doing anything well enough for her. It allowed her to force a smile when her brothers teased her about digging up gold or treasure so she could buy her house. The thought of slipping away there each day that she could, spending time in the yard or rooms of the house she could open, sustained her.
She went in the evening, to sit awhile and gaze at the wash of pink sunset with its silvery crescent moon. She went in the dawn. Something brushed against her once when she came into the yard and she jumped, thinking of the dragon, then laughed at herself. It was only a bough laden with velvet leaves. She ran it through her hands, murmuring, “Even the dragon's plumage could hardly be richer than you are.” She went in the afternoon and sat in the sun-room to read or dream, the flowering cherry tree outside the white picket fence in the side yard dusted with lavender loveliness, framed by the light yellow curtains that, as she and Henry had pretended, fluttered and billowed pleasantly when there was not a breath of wind and stayed still when there was. The doves, who nested in the firs at night, swooped in and out of the windows. A special one, the smallest of the group, once brought her a twig with three tiny evergreen leaves on it. She stroked the inclined little head and tied a red ribbon around its neck as it gave soft coos. “You must have been the one who brought the sign of land to Noah so long ago; I know it by your eyes,” she said to it.
Lucy found every room full of delight, each gorgeously furnished but immensely cozy. There were no end of things to explore and discover in them. The odd thing was that many of the fancies she had shared with Henry were half-true. In one of the upstairs bedrooms--one's theme was blue, another red, and a third green-- she found a green vase, and when she placed some purple asters in it, a woman's voice came forth, singing Puccini in a poignant tone. She had no interest in inspecting it to find out how it worked, firmly believing that it was by magic. On the living-room mantlepiece was the small figurine of a fat, jolly man with a wide face named Old Man Magee, who always danced in firelight, so Henry had said. Whenever Lucy went upstairs she passed a wooden Piper on the banister, poised to sound forth his elfin notes. The dining-room held a great oak table like the one Henry invented. It was not much to look at, but it supplied “gorgeous feasts,” as he called them. Lucy fingered the smooth polished wood, a smile playing about her lips as she remembered the sumptuous meals they had dreamed up.
Lucy unlocked the door of the Spooky Room one evening, the last room she had not yet explored except for the tower one. The Spooky Room-for she and Henry had decided that there must be one in every house-was on the second floor at the very end of the hall, and had a low doorway whose top came to a peak. The room was not dangerous or cruel but deliciously eerie. Lucy ducked her head and entered slowly, hardly daring to think that it would be as they had planned it. Two lanterns bolted to the opposite wall sputtered to life and threw wavering shadows over the room. There it was between them, the round-framed portrait of an austerely beautiful woman. She was like a witch, with dark, severely pulled-back hair coming to a widow's peak on her marble forehead. Sharp, cruel-looking fingers were folded on her lap, and the corners of her thin mouth curled down in a scornful grimace.
Lucy turned to the right and saw the massive bed hung with heavy, deep blue curtains beside a window with matching velvet drapes that shut out all outside light.
She remembered well the hushed evening when she and Henry had crouched on the lawn while she told him what happened in the Spooky Room at night: “The bed-clothes tighten around you like arms when you get into them, and red dots like two burning eyes stare down from the canopy. Just as you're at last dropping into an uneasy sleep, an icy finger touches your forehead, just one light touch that leaves you cold.
“In the narrow, full-length mirror behind the door a shadowy gray form appears, its wispy long hair and wrappings slowly swirling as if the figure is lying in water; the large mahogany rocker by the bed rocks gently forward and back; the rich red rug at the foot of the bed jerks from under your feet when you step on it.” Luckily, it was thick and cushioned the inevitable fall. When Lucy tried it she fell to the floor, skirt flying, and sat there laughing till she cried. Henry must have rigged some sort of trap for the carpet. She looked up at the portrait, whose lady had a reproachful, disapproving expression.
“I'm sorry, madam, to create such a disturbance in your sepulchral shrine,” Lucy addressed her. “Madame Melvant, I'll call you.”
Lucy wished suddenly that Henry was there with her. She would pretend to be scared and he would pretend to comfort her, making defiant faces at the lady in the portrait. Lucy got up and dusted herself off, reflecting that, for all its eeriness, the room felt rather flat without anyone to share it with.
The blow fell late that afternoon. Lucy had let herself pretend that the Dunlaps were not really going to move away to the States. But they were, and their house had already been sold. All that remained was to pack everything up and depart next day.
“What did you expect?” chortled her father. “You've known it for three months. Now, no fuss from you.”
“Come now, Lucy, and help me pack the kitchen things,” said her mother, with as much expression in her face as a stone statue.
“Maybe Judgment Day will come tomorrow. Then you won't care about leaving your precious house,” said Burt, nudging Jim.
Lucy stood stricken. There was no more pretending now. She really would have to leave her house, likely forever. Her father no doubt would try his hand at farming in the States and stay there.
She turned stormily away and went out the front door, leaving the Dunlaps shaking their heads and wondering why the silly girl had to turn out so differently than they.
Maybe I should just go with them, Lucy thought dully as she ran over the fields and through the wood groves to her house. Maybe I deserve it after setting all my affections on my house. But I might as well leave. It's obvious Henry isn't going to come. Whoever has been leaving the notes and keys has just been toying with me. Well, I have had a lovely three months, and now I must say good-bye.
Her face was white and drawn when she reached the hollow, and she did not even stop to gloat over the beauty of her blue house of fantasy. She didn't notice that the front door was unlocked, nor that the tower room finally yielded to her when she climbed straight up to it. Lucy went down on her knees before the north window, her face in tearless agony. She realized that it was Henry she wanted, even more than her beloved house. With him she had always felt safe, special, loved. Never, with him, had she felt cowed or insignificant, but strong and brave. He had always been there when she wanted him; now she needed him and had no idea where he was.
“Henry-Henry-why don't you come? I need you so.”
There was a rustle and a light step behind her. Then a strong hand enveloped both of hers as another held her waist, and she was gently pulled to her feet. Lucy slowly lifted her eyes.
He was manly and grown, even taller than her brothers, whom he could have easily overpowered at once. But he was unmistakably Henry, with a lingering air of boyishness in his matured face. His eyes would have twinkled down into hers if they hadn't been clouded in concern for her anguish. There was a long pause as they looked at each other for the first time in eleven years.
“Henry-it's you,” Lucy said whimsically, her face washed of its pain and sorrow. “Why, you're all grown. I half expected you to have remained a boy all this time.”
“Are you disappointed?” Henry inquired, his eyes twinkling this time. They were the same smoldering black, with the old straight brown hair and sculpted face, but he had discarded his puckish garb for a dark brown suit. He was tall and slender, but the arms beneath his sleeves were suggestive of rippling muscle, and altogether he had an air of great agility and strength, just as he had when he was a boy.
“Why did you wait so long?” Lucy asked softly, gazing at him hungrily. He was really there at last.
He tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Because I had to be sure,” he replied. “Sure that you still cared about me and hadn't grown too old for our childhood fancies.”
“I've never stopped caring about you, Henry,” said Lucy a little reproachfully. “And I would trade all the fancies in the world to have your company again. But you see, I won't be able to come here anymore--not for a long time, at least.”
“Why can't you come here anymore?” asked Henry gravely, looking tenderly down at her. The evening sun was bringing out the red tints of her brown hair and the tears that clung to her cheeks. How he had longed for her all these years!
Lucy stared at him. “I'll be turned out of my home. I can't buy myself another. There's nothing to do but join my family. And they know it,” she added bitterly.
Henry smiled now, as though on the point of revealing some enchanting secret. “I do hope that you have more confidence in me than that. Lucy, my queen, you are to live here always. In this house--in your house. With me.”
“With you?” repeated Lucy, her heart giving a thrill. Could he mean-?
“Yes,” said Henry quietly, eyes shining. “This house needs you, but I need you more. I love you, Lucy. I have from the first moment I saw you when we were young. I was here at the window a week ago when you came out from the firs, looking up to the tower room with your soul in your eyes. I knew then that you have stayed the Lucy I used to play with. Can you love me, Lucy? I have no right to expect it when you only know me from distant years. If you don't I will arrange for this to be your home all the same, though perhaps you will allow me to visit-”
Lucy stepped forward, put a hand behind Henry's head, and kissed him. His hair was unbelievably soft beneath her fingers. She, who had always been so timid and cowed, was bold in her passion.
Enclosed securely in Henry's arms, Lucy laughed joyfully.
“If you wanted me to live with you in a hovel I would. You see, since you began leaving notes for me my love for you has transcended my love for the house, though of course I still am inordinately devoted to it,” she said gaily, looking fondly about the room.
“And it is yours,” assured Henry. “Yours at last. When we were children I lived in this village with my parents for the four years you and I were together, but I always liked to keep an air of secrecy. You see, I am both Henry and the present Mr. Fairfax. My uncle, Mr. Frederick Fairfax, owned this house and promised to leave it to me when I told him about our liking for it. When he died a year ago it passed into my possession. So I decided to fix it up for you just the way we always imagined it to be and let you see it in increments. Of course, the magic table is one thing I couldn't quite manage, nor the square window on the landing that changes to show far-away places.”
“Those notes could only be written by you, Henry, and no one could prepare the house for me as you have. After all, it didn't matter that I never saw you. Everything revealed your spirit. The gulf of years has been crossed, and it is as if you had never left. That's the best thing of all. The house only takes second place to you.”
Henry laughed exultantly, carelessly. “Then I need never worry that you care more for our house than for me.”
Lucy, during the last evening she was to spend in her family's now vacant house, sat down at her desk by the window and wrote to them that she was marrying the owner of her house and would not come to live with them, but would write on occasion.
The Dunlaps never answered the letter, and for the rest of their lives they shook their heads incredulously and avowed that Lucy had always been possessed of a touch of madness in caring more for that house than anything else on earth, even her savior, who, paradoxically, is not of earth. Of course, we know that, if they could see Lucy and Henry standing together at the window of their tower room, there could be no denying that it was an exceedingly happy sort of madness.
#About the Author;
Clarissa Call has always loved writing fiction, but only recently has it become a serious career pursuit. She writes for the sake of beauty and hope rather than for popular preference. If nothing of hers was ever published Clarissa would still continue writing, for to her it is an instinctive necessity.
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