At the age of 9, I was given by my father a box of my mother's childhood books to amuse me and help while away the daylight hours. The faded illustrations captivated me in a way the tales between the covers could never hope to do; golden haired children who danced merrily to a piper's tune, a mischievous red-haired boy poised in mid-leap over a candlestick, a beautiful lady named Rapunzel imprisoned in a Gothic tower.
I, too, am confined. If not a tower's prison, this place is yet the same as such. While not a castle in the truest sense, father calls it a fortified house. The walls are thick, the ceilings tall. Everything is always damp and musty because fire for heat must be used sparingly with great caution. Our home contains three stories and a cellar. The top two floors remain unused; we eat, sleep and conduct most of our activity within the stone foundation of the cellar. The first floor is for silent pursuits, such as reading and drawing, sewing if I was so inclined - which most certainly I am not.
Neither am I golden haired like the laughing children or the beautiful Rapunzel. No brave prince attends my rescue. I am small, dark and dreary. Like everything else in this world, it seems. And I can only imagine the freedom to sing aloud, to indulge in unrestrained laughter, to make much noise of any kind, any time, in my privacy of my daydreams.
We must never forget ourselves, father says. We must never do anything to attract the attention of the Narrow Ones, to lead them to our hiding spot - our fortified home - we can never let them find us.
Father says they will eat us if they do.
Before I tell about my family, I've got to write about the most wonderful thing that happened to me. Last night, after the rest of the household was fast asleep. I am terribly excited. And knowing aforehand what it is I shall write, I feel the heated blush spread across my cheeks, exactly as it was last night, when I had the most amazing dream in the entire world.
At least, it's supposed to be a dream. I'm sure it was. But it was so real, so magical that I really have to wonder. Anyway, dream or not, I had my first kiss. It was Anton, or looked very much like him. Anton is my older cousin by marriage, and I've always thought him handsome and kind. Maybe too much so, to dream of him this way. But my lips were tingling when I awoke in the middle of night, and it seemed for just a moment I could still feel him there, bending over my body under the coverlet.
There, I am blushing again. I am much too young to be thinking the thoughts I'm having at this moment. But there are all those books upstairs, so I probably know more about romantic matters than is proper for a sixteen year old girl.
I am quite the literate, my father says.
If only he knew how much!
But I am and I don't care, and I had my very first kiss, even if it was a dream. It seemed so real ...
Now here is something that suddenly occurs to me - how is it that a dream can seem so lifelike, and life, itself, be so surreal? Even the withered, narrow dead who nest in the trees at the edge of our estate feel less vital than the kiss I shared with Anton.
So my dream must be a good thing.
I said I would tell about my family, so here it goes. First there is me, of course, - Olivia Anna, age 16, born August 22, 2013PA. My mother, Anna Marie, died from milk fever shortly after I was born. I have a few grainy pictures of her from the years before PA, when she was young and seeing father. She looked so beautiful. Everyone tells me I look exactly like her, but they are being ridiculous because I haven't the deep copper hair or full curving figure. But I do love music, and singing, as did mother. Or I would if I were allowed to do much of it, anyway.
Father told me Anna Marie used to sing for commercials on television. I cannot imagine a time when electronics were used so casually, and available to everyone. Even to have died young, I think my mother was very fortunate.
Moving on. There is my father, Sir Jonathan Edward Peck, who moved to the States to teach and take up privately funded research at the prestigious MIT. Father has always missed England, and, when I can get him to talk about the past, he will go on forever about the wonderful museums, libraries and churches. He loved Hyde Park, and said in London the roses are always in bloom.
It is thanks to father that we have this huge library in our fortified home. After his move to the states seemed permanent, he had the entire contents of his personal collection shipped here to Michigan. Father has always maintained that if he had only known what the future had in store, he would have paid every cent he owned and brought along his ponderous old ham radio collection, as well.
Personally, if everything father tells me is true, then I would have have spent my money on chocolate and candy, and cakes, tins of biscuits, chips,anchovies and all the wonderful food I could have gotten my hands on. Our diet is so plain and boring, it seems - as compared to all the good things there once was to eat. I shouldn't complain, because we are lucky and well off here, I know that ... but I am bored to tears with root vegetables, dried berries and sun-baked crackers. I can't be the only one, because Grandmother Terese burned dozens of old cook books last winter. She threw them in the fire when she thought nobody was watching her.
Which brings me now to Grandmother Terese, whom everyone calls her Te for short. Even though she is over 70 years old, and her eyesight is failing, Te loves to sew more than anything and is always trying to teach me how. She said she used to make all of my mother's clothing when she was small, and she's shown me a small box full of embroidered shirts, sundress and bonnets, all in the most brilliant colors - reds, oranges and pink so bright it hurts my eyes. Which is another thing for me to complain about - I seem to be doing a lot of that lately - we don't have proper lighting anymore, like in the old days, and I think everyone's vision suffers for it. Some day we will all go blind and then what?!
Now I don't feel like writing anymore. Instead, I have the urge to go outside, under the stars, and dance on the large front lawn, to sing at the top of my voice. That would be suicide, of course. And I would never do that, I don't think. Te told me that after PA, so many people committed suicide that for a while it looked like the world had come to an end. Which I guess people thought it had, anyway.
But the world always goes on, Te says. Life is about change, and one's worth is measured by one's ability to come to terms with those changes.
It seems to me my grandmother is very wise, which is probably why she has lived to be so old. It is rare for her to do things like burning her cook books, or crying over my mother's clothes. I wish I were more like Te.
Instead, I am my mother's daughter and want to swirl under the stars, to sing under the moon. I so want to laugh aloud. I want to scream at the top of my lungs at the Narrow Ones, because if they weren't here I could do everything I long to do.
Which is just as silly as the rabbit screaming at the fox. Te says everything in nature has its place, it's just that we, man, are no longer at the top of the food chain and must make our adjustments.
I wonder if the rabbit hates the fox as much as I do?
To Be Continued: