A Heart-Warming Story for The Holidays
Linda Maria Frank
The lock with the doorknob is sitting on my front porch. It’s been there for a very long time. In fact, it was there before the porch sagged at such an angle that the old wicker rocker was tossed into the front yard. That happened after a rainstorm of Biblical proportions. I don’t remember when. The weather events of such proportions seem to occur more and more frequently.
My vantage point of the front room windows doesn’t give me a close-up view, so I suspect some part of that mechanism is stuck between two floorboards. What this means effectively is that anyone can enter and invade my home. I’m surrounded by a pine and birch forest, well off the main road, on a dirt track. Ivy has been growing all over my chimneys and roof. It makes me wonder if anyone venturing by would even discover a house so secluded and disguised by nature.
But I do have visitors. They find their way through the large chimney in my front room. I guess the bricks haven’t fallen in to obstruct the flue. There’s not been a fire there since before I developed the ivy problem. It’s begun to pry up my shingles. I worry about a case of rot, and I become squeamish at the thought of termites. Ugh!
Now, let me tell you about the invaders, I mean visitors. The sun comes up every morning as it should and blinds me, turning the east windows to a fiercely bright gold. I feel the creaking in my various parts, door frames and windows, warped and rusted from disuse. And age. It won’t be long, I think, until I’m a pile of splinters.
Ah! There she is again, the quivering, glossy red intruder, raising my hopes for some company, stirring those films and motes of dust that coat every nook and cranny of my consciousness, of my being.
Her nose inhales a breath of air that lies so deep within me, unused. She peers cautiously from the fireplace interior, ever careful of finding safe transit from one perch to another. She enters the room, setting my dust dress in motion, fanning my hopes from a flicker to a flame. Oh, how I wish for someone to inhabit me once more.
She hops gracefully from chimney to window, its broken smokey panes my eyes to the world. The eyes that search for someone to come and visit. What is she looking for? Her bushy tail is twitching and tight against her back.
He comes like a spore sprung from its capsule, with an acorn and a sprig of timothy hay, landing next to her on the sill. His sudden appearance causes a wonderful draft, creating another flurry in all this dust, like snow rising instead of falling, sun-spangled in the morning light. The newcomer froze, poised to leap out the window, his amazing faculties sensing a ripple of something a bit off.
Oh, no. Please don’t go! Suspended in those glittering particles, we three waited.
Whoosh! With a swish of those gorgeous fluffy tails and another explosion of diamond dust, the couple bounds to the hearth. Just then the sun has risen enough to peek through the trees, making my windows wink with the golden reflection of my joy. A nest in my fireplace, at last, the little red creatures making me a home.
Days and nights flicker across the windows, the two red squirrels coming and going, till one day, one squirrel remains in the nest. What’s wrong with her I worry. But soon, a barely audible squeaking tells me we’ll be having a frisky little family soon. So intent was I on Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel that I miss the goings-on of my tiniest visitor yet, a brown mouse. So quiet and wary, it was easy to dismiss the mice as visitors. They provide little amusement for me, not like the squirrels who are more visible with their feats of daring-do.
Traffic in the front room increases as the baby squirrels grow, chasing each other in a hilarious, never-ending race to reach every perch in the room. I’m glad all my china ornaments are gone. Mr. And Mrs. S sometimes leave a trail of acorn scraps, too tempting to keep the tiny brown mouse in her hole in the baseboard.
Brownie, the mouse, her nose and whiskers twitching, scurries across my parlor floor to a board that has warped at the entry to my dining room. Ignoring the scraps, she squeezes her flexible little body through the crevice. I wonder what she is doing in there. I wonder too, where are the six other mice that show themselves when they think it’s safe.
Varoomph! Varoomph! Egad, what’s that?
Majestically surveying the room below a hawk has landed on the windowsill recently vacated by a baby squirrel. The hawk is high above the fireplace and the squirrels are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the presence of the fearsome hawk explains the absence of the six mice. I don’t really like that idea. This is not a hunting preserve, if you please.
Brownie appears through the crevice in the floorboards again. What’s that in her mouth, a pink little something? Why, it’s a baby! The hawk has made the same deduction. He is probably thinking two for the price of one.
Mother Brownie is running, hell bent for leather, with her precious cargo toward the hole in the baseboard. The hawk flexes her wings, eyes laser focused on Brownie. Body tensed, wings flapping, her talons detaching from the sill, a shriek from outside stops her. With an agile turn, she is gone. Brownie disappears into the baseboard.
Two sets of shrieks vibrate in the air outside. They are growing fainter. A mated pair headed for their nest?
The sun is dropping toward the horizon. Another day. The red squirrels have abandoned their nest for now, leaving a mess in the fireplace. Squirrels’ nests hardly ever make it to those home improvement magazines for the “after” pictures.
Fallen leaves on the once pathway to the porch crackle and rustle. I feel the weight of someone on the porch. There is a screeching sound as if something is being pried loose. The door opens and I cannot believe it. A man stands just inside. The doorknob and lock rest in his hand. He has a large hump on his back, which he detaches somehow and places on the floor.
I haven’t seen another human in some time. He fills the door jamb, so he must be tall. He has a dark beard and a woolen cap pulled down over his ears. His eyes are shadowed. His clothes look well-worn but clean, dark in color. He would blend well in the surrounding woods.
The man comes in, looking around, nudging at the mess in the fireplace. He moves down the hall to check out the other rooms. Water begins to run through the unused pipes, and it is a strange sensation. I chuckle to myself. Hah, the water still works.
He comes back to the open front door. I hear him call into the twilight. “C’mon. It’s okay. No one lives here.”
A young girl and a little boy, dark like the man, come in, wary and wide-eyed. They are dressed like the man, dark clothes, not the colorful ones children might wear. They look frightened. I wonder why. What brought them to this desolate place?
“Oh, Daddy, can we stay? I worry if a bear will eat me. Please?” The young girl holds the little boy’s hand, and he says nothing, just looks around, eyes still huge.
“There’s a big kitchen in the back with an old wood stove. I think I can get it going. We can spread the blankets. And there’s water,” the man tells the children. As he offers this promise of warmth, the two young ones sink to the floor.
“There is a fireplace in this room,” the girl says.
The little boy pipes up. “No, no. You can’t use it. Look. There’s a nest in it.”
The man smiles a tiny smile as if he is unused to doing so. “Ivan is right. It’s bad enough we don’t have a home.”
Well, I think to myself, maybe being here might change that.
The man continues. “The stove is safer anyway. I don’t know if the chimney is blocked. Maria, look around. Maybe some blankets were left here.”
“Ivan, come with me. I am scared to go alone.”
The man goes to get wood and lights the stove. I hold my breath, but in a little while the house is not on fire, a surprise, and a blessing.
“Look what we found!” Ivan says in his little boy voice. The girl, Maria, is clutching an armload of blankets.
“I found them in a chest, one like Mamma had. They smell like something nice. I don’t know what it is.”
“Cedar,” the father says. “That’s why they are still in one piece. Cedar repels moths that eat blankets.”
How nice it is to feel warmth in me again. I wonder if they will stay. By now it’s dark. The squirrels have taken up residence in their nest. The family makes little noise in their own kitchen nest.
I hear the man say goodnight to Ivan and Maria. All is quiet and I revel in it. I whisper my goodnight to my three visitors. “Rest easy,” I think.
In the distance a large boom rumbles, vibrating and rattling the same windows I welcomed the dawn with. Could it be a thunderstorm on the way? Before closing myself down, I gaze at the moonlit sky. There is a faint red glow on the horizon. I have never seen that before.
I gathered my ivy cloak around me and settled for the night; the third step creaked, the spare room door shut, and one of the roof timbers let out a snap.
For now, someone is home. I hope they can stay for a little while at least, until they must leave, to go who knows where, to find another home.