Sanitarium

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The nurse leaves the window open when she goes out. For fresh air, she tells me, but I’m sick of fresh air. Just once, I would like to fall asleep without shivering. But we are poor, sick little darlings, and we don’t know what’s good for us, so the window stays open.

She locks the door behind her when she leaves, same as she does for all the children here, but the locks are simple. I learned to pick them in the first week, and I have no intention of staying in a cold room all alone tonight. I wait until I can’t hear her footsteps any longer, and then I leave.

The halls are quiet. Even the nurses have gone to bed by now, or are on their rounds, and I pad quietly down the hall to Emma’s room.

She’s waiting for me, sitting up in her bed. They’ve left her window open too, poor dear, but it will be warmer together. I climb in next to her and kiss her pale cheek. She’s sicker than I am. The doctors think I have a chance of recovering, at least for a little while, since TB never really goes away, but Emma isn’t so lucky as I am. She’s been here much longer, and they don’t expect her to ever leave.

But still, even for all their fussing and pity, Emma is still happy. She smiles more than anyone I’ve ever met in my whole life, in the sanitarium or out of it, and she never complains. Even about the open windows. We cuddle together beneath her blankets to keep warm, and she strokes my thin hair and tells me every story she’s ever heard, and a few she made up on her own.

I fall asleep to the sound of her hoarse voice, and not even the cold wakes me up again.

Wind in the Willows

I live in Colorado.

And it is January.

January in Colorado means temperatures that drop below zero, fields that are dry and brown, and (this year, at least) very little snow. The only color in our dull landscape comes from the pine trees, the mountains, and the sky.

The sky in Colorado is spectacular. You want beauty? Go look at a Colorado sky at midnight. You can see every star in the heavens.

Glorious.

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But, despite our amazing skies, the grass is still dry and brown and the fields and roads are still dust. I love everything lush and green, and in the wintertime, I have to remind myself that grass does grow green, trees do grow leaves, and flowers do bloom.

One of my favorite ways to do that is to read The Wind in the Willows.

This beautiful book begins just as everything in the world is waking up, when trees are budding, birds are returning from their winter homes, the sun is shining, and the fields are, once again, green. In fact, it is Spring Cleaning time, and the Mole is hard at work, whitewashing his walls and cleaning his little burrow.

But spring is calling to him, and he can’t stay underground forever. He forsakes his little tunnel in favor of the chatter and excitement of the River, a place he’s never seen in all his sheltered life, and one that he falls in love with at once.

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I fell in love with this beautiful book just as quickly. The gorgeous descriptions and setting, the quirky and lovable characters, and the charmingly simple storyline continue to make this one of my favorite reads. I have rolled my eyes over the antics and foolishness of Toad, enjoyed the deep burrows and passages of the solitary Badger, understood the passion of the Rat for his riverside home, and enjoyed the company of a myriad of waterfront creatures who live and thrive in such beautiful surroundings. This book is a particular joy to read aloud, and the fascinating and—at times—thrilling adventures will interest readers of any age. As quiet and peaceful as the River is, adventure never fails to find its inhabitants, especially with Toad thrown into the mix. Prison breaks and motor car chases, pitched battles with stoats and a stolen home all disrupt the peace of the River, but in the end, the River flows on, and life continues.

It never fails to remind me that no matter how dull and brown life can get, spring will always come again.

The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories.

 

Frost

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The fireplace is empty. Frost is creeping up the glass of the windows. It’s dark now, so dark that I can’t see the garden fence outside the kitchen window, but they’re still not home.

They should have been home hours ago. Before supper, Mother told me when she climbed into the wagon. Certainly in enough time to light the fires before it grew too cold.

I breathe onto the window pane, melting the frost, and peer outside. I can’t see the road, not anymore, but they would have a lantern on the wagon. I look for the glow among the trees, but there is nothing. Only darkness, and the frost already crawling up the panes again.

“They’ll come, child. Don’t worry so,” Amma tells me. I climb down from the counter and pad across the cold kitchen to sit at her feet. I fetched her shawl for her an hour since, tucking it neatly around her thin shoulders, and her knitted blanket covers her knees. Her hands are cold. She strokes my cheek, my hair, and I feel her trembling. She can’t get up from her chair, not anymore, and I’ve never lit a fire alone. I brought her the lamp to light, but the fire’s too much for either of us. We’ll have to wait.

She tells me stories while the lamp burns low. The frost creeps higher, painting cold pictures on the window glass until I can’t see outside any longer. My hands are stiff with cold when the door finally blows open with a gust of wind, and Mother sweeps into the room, her cheeks red with cold and a thousand apologies for each of us as she kisses our cheeks and lays a fire. She’ll leave again tomorrow, for her work, but maybe she’ll teach me to lay a fire before she goes.

The Secret Garden

Has anyone out there ever heard of Focus on the Family Radio Theater? They are a rather incredible recording studio that dramatizes books, stories from history, and their own original productions. I grew up listening to them, everything from the Chronicles of Narnia to the Adventures in Odyssey. They were a very prominent part of my childhood, whether we listened to them on road trips, or in the living room while we puzzled, or did our school work at the dining room table.

One of the books that I remember listening to very distinctly is The Secret Garden.

Oddly enough, I never really read the book until this last year. I’ve had it on my shelf for ages, loved the story since I was probably as young as ten years old, and watched my younger sister blaze through it for school and love every page. And yet, I’d never picked it up.

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When I finally did, I couldn’t put it down.

The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a lonely English child living in India. Her father is an English officer stationed there, and her mother is a great beauty with no time for her little sour-faced daughter. Mary is left in the care of her servants, rarely getting a glimpse of her parents as they flit past her, intent on their own lives.

But an outbreak of cholera lays waste to the household, and with both of her parents dead, little Mary is sent to England to live with her uncle. Archibald Craven, the master of Misselthwaite Manor, in Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a very different place from India, and Mary has a great many things to learn and adjust to, include learning to dress herself, although she is already ten years old and ought to have learned long since. But the fresh, Yorkshire air begins to work in the little lass, and she slowly loses the pinched, sour-faced, disagreeable air and begins to look—and act—like a normal child.

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But Misselthwaite is not all that it seems. Grief hangs heavy over the Manor, a shadow that is ten years old. Her uncle, Archibald Craven, refuses to see her for more than a few minutes at a time and is often away traveling, as if he would like to escape the house and the memories trapped inside it. Mary begins to hear stories of a garden, a secret garden, that belonged to Mr. Craven’s dead wife. The door is locked now, the key buried, but Mistress Mary has never been taught to mind her own business or to leave well enough alone, and she goes looking for it.

The fresh, clean beauty trapped inside this book fed my soul. The simple, gorgeous descriptions of springtime coming to life on the moor brought a breath of fresh air into my little house, and made me wish for my own little ‘bit of earth’. Frances Hodgson Burnett did an incredible job of portraying the moor, the gardens, the flowers, and the new life of Yorkshire, and of the magic and enchanting beauty of spring bringing life to dead earth. May we all remember the magic of the changing seasons so well.

And over the walls and earth and trees and swinging sprays and tendrils the fair green veil of tender little leaves had crept, and in the grass under the trees and the gray urns in the alcoves and here and there everywhere were touches or splashes of gold and purple and white and the trees were showing pink and snow above his head and there were fluttering of wings and faint sweet pipes and humming and scents and scents.

Stay Awake

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He’s awake when I push the screen back. He has blood on his gear, blood on his clothes, blood on his face, but he’s awake, and he smiles at me. “Didn’t want to sleep through this,” he tells me, and I understand. We’re only a few miles from the front lines, not far enough to completely deaden the noise of the fighting, the thunder of the mortars. With what he’s seen, I doubt he’ll ever sleep properly again.

We talk while I stitch up his shoulder. He’s from North Dakota, he tells me, on a farm near the state line. I’m from New York state, and my father grew up on a farm. He tells me he’d rather be plowing, or hunting on his family’s land. I’ve never been hunting, so I ask him about it. His eyes are glazed with pain, even with the anesthetic, but he tells me about the trips he and his brothers took in the fall. I listen and try to piece the flesh on his shoulder back together.

Neither of us belongs here. Sometimes I’m not sure why I came, except I know that if I didn’t, there would be no one to ask him about his hunting trips or keep him awake when he’d really rather not fall asleep. I stay longer than I meant to, but the relief in his eyes makes the extra time worth it. I think he might be ready to close his eyes when I finally leave.

Artemis Fowl

Welcome back, book lovers!

I hope you all had a lovely holiday. I know I did. Much as I enjoy writing like a mad woman, working on two different, rather massive projects and running this blog and others, it was nice to take a few weeks off and clear my brain out a bit. Everyone needs time off occasionally, right?

Right?

Anyway, that’s what I kept telling myself whenever I felt guilty about sitting on my butt all day, reading Agatha Christie novels and watching multiple episodes of my favorite shows. Not the most productive way to spend my time, but I did enjoy myself, and my brain is working better now.

I think.

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Anyway. The holidays are over and my time off has come to an end. I’m back at work this week, this blog and the rest of my writing projects are going again, and my head is one straight again.

Sort of.

Something that I have come to notice in the last few years is that the books I read as a young teen—whether or not I actively read them now—are the books that I will instinctively reach for in any used bookstore or library. I might not have the tolerance or the time to read them any longer, but I remember them. I remember searching them out in the library, waiting weeks for the bookmobile to bring just one of them by, and devouring the entire book in six-hour reading sessions. If I tried to read a whole book in six hours now, I might go crazy.

And possibly lose my job. Because, you know, my boss really likes it when I actually show up for work.

One book that I went back to again and again when I was a young teen was Artemis Fowl. I don’t quite remember where I picked this one up, something about the friend of a friend of my brother or something confusing like that, but the moment I read the first chapter, I was hooked. And, all these years later, I’m still hooked.

Artemis Fowl is the story of an Irish prodigy, a twelve-year-old boy with an intellect unlike anything the world has ever seen before. He is brilliant, ruthless—and a criminal.

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But not just an ordinary criminal. He is heir to the Fowl estate, an empire built on crime, the son of a dead crime lord. At twelve years old, he is intelligent enough to befuddle the psychiatrists and doctors who have attempted to get inside his head, and to keep the life his father left behind from slowly crumbling, holding together a dwindling fortune, a mother who has lost her mind in grief, and a household that looks to him for guidance. And yet, for all his premature responsibility and intelligence, he is still child enough to believe in fairies. And criminal enough to want to exploit them.

His ambitions eventually cause him to cross paths with Captain Holly Short, a fairy and a member of the LEP, or Lower Elements Police. In fact, he kidnaps her. What follows is a battle between an advanced species that is not supposed to exist and the intellect of a twelve-year-old prodigy. Neither side comes out unscathed.

Artemis Fowl is the first book in a fantasy series that became one of the most loved books in my young teen years. I never miss a chance to recommend it to teens or young adults alike, no matter what their reading level. If you should happen to pick it up anytime soon or enjoyed it once yourself, let me know! I’d love to hear about it.

“Fly, little fairy,” said the voice. “And tell your friends Artemis Fowl the Second says hello.”

Until I Come Home

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I parked the truck behind the house when we came. It’s covered in branches now, leaves littered over the seats and the bed. I dragged the branches up from the creek bottoms that first night, to hide the truck and to make it seem as though it belongs here. But the leaves fell on their own. We’ve been here a long time, longer than we’ve stayed anywhere else.

The house is falling apart. I can’t see it through the woods until I reach the curve in the drive, even though the trees are bare now, their leaves piled along the narrow, lonely road. The paint is peeling on the broken fence, and the shutters hang at an angle. It’s nearly three miles to town, two to the nearest neighbor, but I don’t mind the walk.

I leave the truck where it is, with leaves piled in front of the license plates. He reported it stolen when we left him. They’re still looking for it. And for me.

I see a face in the window when I push the rusty gate open, balancing the paper bag of groceries against the post. My lips tighten. They aren’t supposed to be near the windows while I’m away. Someone might see them. This house is supposed to be empty.

It is empty, really, or most of the way. We’re practically ghosts anyway, after the last few years. It will take a long time before that heals.